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Fact - Methane Makes You Fat

Updated on January 24, 2017
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How Can Methane Make You Fat?

In a study involving almost 800 people, carried out at the Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, scientists found that subjects who had high levels of the gases Methane and Hydrogen on their breath were much more likely to be overweight than those people who had normal levels. A microorganism known as M.smithii (Methanobrevibacter smithii) that lives in the gut is what causes Methane production. These microorganisms are archaea not bacteria. M.smithii is a scavenger and removes Hydrogen from microbes present in the gut.

An abundance of both of these gases was shown to link directly to a higher BMI and more body fat. The BMI of the study group with both excess Hydrogen and Methane was on average, 7 points higher than those with just Methane or Hydrogen or neither. In addition they weighed almost 15 pounds more than people with lower levels of Methane.

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What happens when there is an imbalance


When there is an imbalance, certain individuals become obese because the microorganism is too efficient. The normal process of the microorganism is to convert the food ingested into energy. When there is a surfeit of M.smithii the person is more likely to gain weight because the hydrogen producing bacteria multiply and due to the increase in their number they become over efficient at the task of extracting calories from food. In effect these people are taking more calories from food than they require and in time they will gain weight. Another theory is that the production of methane slows down the digestive process and so allows the body to extract more calories from the food.

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How do you know you have an imbalance?


Normally it is detected during a gas imbalance test which is sometimes also known as a Hydrogen Test. The usual reason for having one of these is because of some form of food intolerance such as the inability to digest fructose or lactose. It is commonly used in the diagnosis of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome) The test is non-invasive and does not cause any pain. After fasting for 12 hours a breath sample is taken by means of blowing into a balloon. Then a solution containing fructose or some other sugar is given and breath tests are taken over the next couple of hours. If an imbalance of either hydrogen, methane or both is present it will show up.

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Won’t exercise and eating less fix this?


It may do but what must be remembered is that this type of overweight person is not necessarily overeating or being lazy. They could be eating a perfectly healthy diet and having the optimal amount of exercise. However, because their body is being overly efficient; it is extracting more than that normal amount of calories usually extracted. So they are in one sense overeating but not of their own volition. It would appear that the only way to fix the imbalance is to eradicate the archaea M.smithii.

How can Methanobrevibacter smithii be got rid of?


Now there lies a problem. It is unclear whether an antibiotic would work since M.smithii is not a bacterium. Also, it may not be possible to get rid of it without harming all the good bugs in the gut. There has been research which revealed that the gut flora is dramatically altered after a gastric bypass operation; making the microbiota more like that of a thin person. As yet it hasn’t been worked out whether it is the surgical intervention or the losing of the excess weight that causes this change. So for the time being, sadly, it is a matter of playing the waiting game until more research is done.

© Susan Bailey 2013 All Rights Reserved

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    • Sue Bailey profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Bailey 

      5 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

      Glad you liked it Alicia

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      5 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      Thanks for sharing the interesting information, Sue. Archaea are fascinating organisms! I hope researchers soon discover ways to help people who have a problem caused by Methanobrevibacter.

    • Sue Bailey profile imageAUTHOR

      Susan Bailey 

      5 years ago from South Yorkshire, UK

      Thanks Vicki. Yes I will be watching out for further research and will update this hub as soon as I find any. Thanks for taking the trouble to comment.

    • profile image

      Vickiw 

      5 years ago

      Well, that is an interesting Hub. I had never heard of this before, and also haven't heard of doctors asking for the Hydrogen test. M. smithii seems to be a very disruptive little pest. It will be interesting to see what further research reveals

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