Methane: The misunderstood gas?


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What Is Methane?

It is a type of gas produced by an organism in the human gut called methanogens. Elevated levels of methane in SIBO breath testing has been associated with constipation in the research. It is now referred to as intestinal methanogen overgrowth.

Methane SIBO Breath Test Results

In conclusion, the combined measurement of hydrogen and methane should offer considerable improvement in the diagnosis of malabsorption syndromes and SIBO when compared with a single hydrogen breath test.

This quote comes from a 2013 paper entitled ‘The importance of methane breath testing: a review‘.

We can do a SIBO Breath test which evaluates he amount of hydrogen and methane an individual is excreting via the breath. These gasses are primarily produced by organisms in the gut, are transported to the lungs and then exhaled. Some is also excreted via flatulence.

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What Does A High Methane Breath Test Result Mean?

We first need to establish what a positive methane test is. The North American Consensus criteria state that a result of 10ppm or higher, at any point in the breath test, may be viewed as positive for methane.

Generally people consider elevated test results to indicate an imbalance in these methanogens organisms, and an underlying cause of constipation dominant IBS.

However, not as many people know that the gas, via different levels of research, has been found to have anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory and antiapoptosis properties.

The question then becomes:

Could elevated methane in breath tests be an adaptive response?

Meaning, could the body have deliberately ‘allowed’ for a bloom in methanogens (the methane producing organisms) to maintain some degree of health, at the expense of  constipation? Could constipation be the better of two outcomes?

Methane has several important biological effects that can protect cells and organs from inflammation, oxidant, and apoptosis.


What About High Baseline Methane Levels In a Breath Test?

It is thought this might be caused by imbalances in the oral microbiome, stomach microbiome or be indicative of severe constipation.

How Do You Treat High Methane SIBO?

So the question becomes does this change how we support a client when they have a positive SIBO test?

Well, yes and no.

We many want to include strategies to directly lower the level of methanogens in the gut, but we also need to be thinking about any underlying factors that may have allowed for this in the first place?

We may want to be thinking about inflammatory mechanisms and oxidative stress levels.

Research has discussed how oxidative stress in those with IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) may contribute to poor motility. Poor motility may allow for a bloom in methane producing organisms – not just because they are ‘slow growers’ but because they may be helping quench the oxidative stress that has contributed to the poor motility.

I think the main message from this is that we have to take a Functional Medicine/holistic approach to this condition. The focus can’t be on just trying to lower the methane levels. We need to be supporting the individual as a whole, not a part. That being said the below I have found helpful in cases of intestine methanogen overgrowth:

  • This probiotic has been shown to help lower methane.
  • NAC – a sulphurous compound with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Neem and oregano oil as antimicrobials.
  • PHGG – a prebiotic fibre which has been shown to lower methane levels.


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How to Interpret Hydrogen Breath Tests

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