“Food Challenges” with AIRE
AIRE is a miniature breath analysis device. It functions as your own personal digestive tracker, allowing you to measure how well you absorb specific foods and food components.
There is a group of food components, called FODMAPs, that are particularly hard to digest. When you don’t fully digest a food or drink containing FODMAPs, it will end up in the large intestine, where it’s fermented by the hordes of bacteria living there. This fermentation can generate certain gasses. Over the course of the day, these gasses can build up, leading to pain, bloating and other forms of digestive disruption.
Naturally, it’s useful to know which foods are causing excessive levels of fermentation. We know which foods contain FODMAPs, but every person is different, so you need to see how you respond. Fortunately, one of the gasses produced during fermentation is hydrogen. The human body doesn’t naturally produce hydrogen, so its presence is a sign that fermentation is occurring. Once it’s produced, it passes from the gut into the bloodstream, and is expelled on your breath, where we can measure it. For many years, hospitals have been using hydrogen breath tests to check how well people absorb lactose and fructose, which are both types of FODMAPs. You can find out more about FODMAPs and hospital-based hydrogen breath tests in our last blog post.
AIRE is inspired by the approach used in hospitals. The app allows you to do “Food Challenges”, which are a lot like conventional hospital-based testing, and allow you to assess how well you digest one specific food or food component.
With your AIRE, you’ll receive four sachets, each containing a single FODMAP, specifically lactose, fructose, inulin and sorbitol. You can test each one of these in isolation, and if you find that you can’t digest it well, the app will tell you which foods are high in that FODMAP and provides alternative food and drinks.
Here’s the process we recommend for best results:
1. Prep: It’s important that nothing else in your digestive system is affecting your breath readings, so you should fast overnight (at least 12 hours) and do your test in the morning. You also shouldn’t eat during the testing — that way any changes in your hydrogen levels are only due to the particular food component you’re testing.
2. Baseline breath test: Take your first breath test before consuming the food component to get a baseline level. AIRE will give you a fermentation score between 0 and 100. Your first reading should be low after fasting the night before.
3. Consume the food component: If testing with one of the FODMAP sachets, mix it with about 200ml of water, then drink. The mixture tastes like sweetened water (after all, FODMAPs are just natural sugars).
4. Regular breath tests: After logging the food component you’re testing, the app will prompt you to take breath tests every 15 minutes for 3 hours to track how your hydrogen level changes as the ingredient passes through your digestive system.
Here’s an example of someone who didn’t digest lactose well. You can see there’s a rise in the breath readings after about 60–90 minutes, when the undigested lactose reaches the large intestine and begins to ferment.
On the other hand, here are test results from a person who was able to digest the lactose — you can see there’s no obvious rise in breath readings over the course of the test.
For some people, part of the hydrogen converts into methane inside the gut, so it can be useful to measure methane as well. We had hoped to ship the first generation of AIRE with both hydrogen and methane testing capability, but currently the device can only measure hydrogen effectively. There are some cases where all of the hydrogen converts to methane, but these are rare, so hydrogen is the most important measurement.
We’re excited to give our backers the chance to measure their response to the supplied FODMAPs. However, if you know that you are intolerant to one or more specific FODMAPs, you may not want to test with those FODMAPs. You can still do Food Challenges with single isolated food or drinks, and also use AIRE to track how your fermentation score varies after regular meals.
AIRE isn’t a replacement for medical care. It’s more like an activity tracker for your gut — a companion to help you achieve a balanced diet that also makes you feel good. If you have any doubts about consuming FODMAPs, you should always consult your doctor or dietician first, especially if you’re a diabetic or have been diagnosed with a specific medical condition.
-With contributions from Dr. James Brief, FoodMarble CMO and co-founder