1. To evaluate the effect of age, sex and level of intake on the colonic response to wheat fibre, thirty healthy volunteers aged 17–62 years (nineteen men, eleven women) recruited from a local industry, were divided into four groups and given a controlled diet for two 3-week periods. The diet contained white bread during one period or one of four different amounts of bran-enriched wholemeal bread during the other (30, 60, 110, 170 g/d).
2. Wide variation was observed between subjects in stool weight on the basal diet and in response to wheat fibre. Stepwise regression analysis showed that the variation in stool weight was significantly related to sex (t4.0, P <0.001) but not to age, height, weight or energy:fibre intakes on the basal diet. Stool weight in men (162(SE 11) g/d) was approximately double that in women (83(SE 11) g/d). Transit time and stool weight were closely related and the effect of sex on stool weight could be explained entirely by differences in transit.
4. Faecal carbohydrate excretion increased with the addition of bran mainly due to increased amounts of cellulose and pentose (arabinose+xylose), whilst digestibility of dietary non-starch polysaccharide fell from 77.6 (SE 2.3)% on the white bread diet to 65.6 (SE 2.4)% with the added bran (t 7.4, P < 0.01, n26).
5. Faecal pH was more acid in men than in women and was related to methane production. Methane producers had higher faecal pH than non-producers (7.06 (SE 0.1 1) v. 6.65 (SE O.1)), lower stool weight (g/d; 93 (SE 12) v. 156 (SE 13)) and slower transit times (h; 84.6 (SE 11.7) v. 48.6 (SE 6.6)).
6. These studies show that, when on similar diets, women have much lower stool weights and slower transit times than men. Furthermore, within the range of amounts of wheat fibre used in this and other published work, stool weight increases in linear proportion to the dose of fibre added to the diet. Methane excretion in breath is associated in this group of subjects with slow transit time and high faecal pH.