Pill measures gut gas

Swallowable tool may eventually help reveal digestive problems

gas-sensing capsule

CAPPED  This 3.5-by-1.2-centimeter capsule can be swallowed to measure gut gases and send its findings to a smartphone. Researchers in Australia tested the device in pigs fed different amounts of fiber.

K. Kalantar-zadeh et al/Gastroenterology 2016

Gas concentrations in the gut can reveal secrets about digestive tract health, and may be skewed in conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome. But sampling gas in breath or stool doesn’t give the most accurate picture of what’s bubbling in the intestines. Australian researchers have designed a swallowable gas-sensing capsule that could someday provide an inside look at the gases in the human gut. 

Each capsule contains a sensor for hydrogen, carbon dioxide and methane. Every five minutes, as it travels through the digestive system, the capsule sends updates about its gassy surroundings to a smartphone. Too much methane or hydrogen in the gut, the scientists say, could reflect digestive problems.

The team tested the capsule in pigs, which have gas-generating gut microbes similar to humans’. In two pigs fed a high-fiber diet, the pills detected increased carbon dioxide levels in the stomach and small intestine after eating, a shift not seen in two pigs fed a low-fiber diet, the researchers noted in the January Gastroenterology.

The capsule is a proof of concept that the researchers are working to shrink down. The preliminary design — about as long as a Brazil nut — may still be a hard pill to swallow. 

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