A healthy gut is a topic that gets a lot of attention these days, especially as findings increasingly suggest that digestive health impacts other areas of human health. Microbes, also called gut flora or microbiota, help with our digestion. According to the National Institutes of Health, evidence has been growing that gut microbes may also play a role in obesity, Type 2 diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), colon cancer, and how the immune system functions. But testing for gut health is a challenge; fecal samples must be taken, or surgery conducted to sample and analyze gut microbes.

Now researchers at RMIT University, a public research university in Australia, have developed a gas-sensing ingestible capsule that detects and measures gut gases such as hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen in real time. The data collected from the capsule, which is about the size of a vitamin pill, can be sent wirelessly to a mobile phone. Trials using the capsule were conducted on seven healthy individuals on low- and high-fiber diets. Researchers discovered that the stomach releases oxidizing chemicals that break down foreign compounds that are staying in the stomach for too long.  According to the study’s lead researcher and capsule co-inventor, “This could represent a gastric protection system against foreign bodies. Such an immune mechanism has never been reported before.” Researchers found that the capsule accurately showed the onset of food fermentation, giving the pill the potential to clinically monitor digestion and normal gut health. Researchers say the capsule could “offer a much more effective way of measuring microbiome activities in the stomach, a critical way of determining gut health.”

The ingestible capsule and new discoveries about gut health could help the millions of people worldwide who suffer from gastrointestinal disorders. The pill’s co-inventor says the capsules are a safe and effective diagnostic tool, and could lead to fewer invasive procedures like colonoscopies. The pill’s creators plan to conduct Phase II human trials and eventually bring the product to market. The hope is to make the gut-monitoring diagnostic pill available to patients and healthcare professionals.