Methane-producing archaea have recently been associated with disorders of the gastrointestinal tract and dysbiosis of the resident microbiota. Some of these conditions include inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn’s disease (CD) and ulcerative colitis (UC)), chronic constipation, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth, gastrointestinal cancer, anorexia, and obesity. The causal relationship and the putative mechanism by which archaea may be associated with human disease are poorly understood, as are the strategies to alter methanogen populations in humans. It is estimated that 30–62% of humans produce methane detectable in exhaled breath and in the gastrointestinal tract. However, it is not yet known what portion of the human population have detectable methanogenic archaea. Hydrogen and methane are often measured in the breath as clinical indicators of intolerance to lactose and other carbohydrates. Breath gas analysis is also employed to diagnose suspected small intestinal bacterial overgrowth and irritable bowel syndrome, although standards are lacking. The diagnostic value for breath gas measurement in human disease is evolving; therefore, standardized breath gas measurements combined with ever-improving molecular methodologies could provide novel strategies to prevent, diagnose, or manage numerous colonic disorders. In cases where methanogens are potentially pathogenic, more data are required to develop therapeutic antimicrobials or other mitigation strategies.
Part of the book: The Gut Microbiome