Differential hydrogen sulfide production by a human cohort in response to animal- and plant-based diet interventions

Levi M Teigen, Prince P Mathai, Sharon Lopez, Michael Matson, Baila Elkin, Daria Kozysa, Amanda J Kabage, Matthew J Hamilton, Byron P. Vaughn, Michael J Sadowsky, Alexander Khoruts

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background: Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a toxic end-product of microbial fermentation produced in the colon that may play a role in the pathogenesis of several diseases, including ulcerative colitis and colon cancer. However, the effect of diet interventions on intestinal burden of H2S gas exposure remains poorly understood. Objective: Determine the effect of short-term (1-week) plant- and animal-based eating patterns on ex vivo fecal H2S production in healthy human volunteers. Methods: The study design was an open-label, cross-over diet study and diets were self-administered. Each participant consumed two interventional diets: 1) an animal-based, low fiber (i.e. western) diet and 2) a plant-based, high fiber diet, separated by a two-week washout period. Participants collected full stool samples at the end of each week, which were processed within 2 h of collection to capture H2S production. Microfluidic qPCR (MFQPCR) was used to simultaneously quantify multiple taxonomic and functional groups involved in sulfate reduction and the fecal microbiota was characterized through high-throughput DNA sequencing. Results: Median H2S production was higher following the animal-based diet compared to the plant-based diet (p = 0.02; median difference 29 ppm/g, 95% CI 16–97). However, there was substantial individual variability and 2 of 11 individuals (18%) produced more H2S on the plant-based diet. Using the top and bottom quartiles of H2S percent change between animal- and plant-based diet weeks to define responders and non-responders, significant taxonomic differences were observed between the responder and non-responder cohorts. Conclusions: Here we report that substrate changes associated with a 1-week plant-based diet intervention resulted in lower ex vivo H2S production compared to a 1-week animal-based diet intervention in most healthy individuals. However, H2S responsiveness to diet was not uniform across the entire cohort, and potential H2S production enterotypes were characterized that may predict individualized H2S responsiveness to diet.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1153-1162
Number of pages10
JournalClinical Nutrition
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Healthy Foods Healthy Lives (A.Kh); Achieving Cures Together (A.Kh); the University of Minnesota MnDRIVE Initiative (MJS); Allen Foundation (MJS).

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Elsevier Ltd and European Society for Clinical Nutrition and Metabolism


  • 16S rRNA gene
  • Dietary sulfur
  • Hydrogen sulfide
  • Microfluidic qPCR
  • Sulfate-reducing bacteria

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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