Breath trace-gases were first used as an indicator that complex sugars (disaccharides) were not broken down (hydrolyzed) and absorbed in the small intestine during the digestion of foods. Hydrogen (H2) was measured in the breath after administering a dose of sugar to be studied. The widest application of the test was for lactose malabsorption or lactose intolerance, which is related to milk intolerance in a majority of adults world-wide.
The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the NIH (USA) estimates that between 30 and 50 million Americans are lactose intolerant. The hydrogen breath-test (HBT) replaced a blood-test that was based on the absence of blood glucose response following lactose ingestion. The test is not as reliable as the breath hydrogen test since it produces a greater proportion of false negative and false positive tests.
The incidence of lactose malabsorption throughout the world is surprising to most people. Adults who cannot digest milk sugar make up the majority of the worlds population. Those who can drink milk without getting sick are likely to be North Americans, Australians, or Northern Europeans. The ability to digest milk beyond the age of 3-5 years is genetically determined, and is a dominant trait.
When the reliability and simplicity of the hydrogen breath test was demonstrated with lactose, it was soon applied to other complex sugars like fructose (from fruits), maltose (from some starches), and sucrose (common table sugar, which is rarely absorbed). It has also been used in dietetic candy, sugar-free chewing gum, and other dietetic foods.
Recent studies have shown that methane has been added as a useful trace-gas for the study of digestive problems. Methane (CH4) is an important intestinal gas and it should also be measured in studies of carbohydrate malabsorption in order to provide the most information to the clinician. Clinicians who are leaders in their medical community are beginning to work with methane and will continue to be well ahead of the field as CH4 becomes more widely understood. Aerodiagnostics utilizes state-of-the-art analytical equipment and proprietary analysis of trace-gases that encompass both H2 and CH4.