Background & aims: Breath methane measurements reflect the in situ activity of the methanogenic colonic flora. Thirty-five years ago we found that 34% of healthy adult subjects were methane producers (breath methane level >1 ppm above atmospheric methane levels). The current study presents a new survey of breath methane levels designed to determine if the activity of the methanogenic flora has changed over the past 35 years. In addition, we review insights into the methanogenic flora that have resulted from breath methane measurements.
Methods: The end-alveolar breath methane concentrations of 212 healthy adults living in the Minneapolis area were determined via gas chromatography. The influence of sex, age, and bowel movement frequency on methane production was assessed.
Results: The findings that 36.4% of participants were methane producers, with a mean methane concentration in these producers of 16.6 ppm, are strikingly similar to the values of 33.6% and 15.2 ppm observed 35 years ago. Neither sex nor age showed a statistically significant relationship to methane production. There was a negative correlation between frequency of bowel movements and breath methane concentration in methane producers.
Conclusions: The activity of the methanogenic flora of healthy adults remained remarkably stable over the past 35 years despite widespread antibiotic use and dietary changes. A literature review revealed that many associations have been shown between methane production and clinical states, but it remains to be determined if methanogens actively influence human physiology or are simply a marker of colonic function.