Lactitol, an unabsorbed sugar with defined laxative threshold and superior taste properties has been suggested as an alternative to lactulose in the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy. In the present study we have compared the colonic metabolism of the two sugars using an in vitro faecal incubation system. Both sugars were readily metabolised by faecal bacteria producing volatile fatty acids and the metabolism was inhibited by neomycin. The effect of lactitol and lactulose on terminal ileal and colonic pH was monitored in six normal subjects using a radiotelemetry technique. Both sugars significantly lowered right colonic pH (basal -6.51 +/- 0.48 vs lactitol -5.63 +/- 0.50; lactulose -5.18 +/- 0.82, p less than 0.05). The pH of rest of the colon and terminal ileum was unaffected. Neomycin given concurrently with lactulose abolished acidification of right colon. As lactitol and lactulose have similar effects within the colon, lactitol would appear to have a role in the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy. As neomycin antagonises the effect of lactulose in the colon, its concurrent use may be less effective in the treatment of hepatic encephalopathy.
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