After ingestion of a non-absorbable carbohydrate breath hydrogen excretion increases early at about 10 minutes, and again later when the ingested carbohydrate enters the caecum. The late rise has been used as a marker of mouth to caecum transit time, but the source of the early rise has not been satisfactorily explained. We studied in 60 healthy volunteers the source and frequency of the early rise in breath hydrogen after ingestion of a non-absorbable carbohydrate. After ingestion of either lactulose solution (10 g in 150 ml water), lentil soup (46 g carbohydrate) or solid meal containing baked beans (15 g carbohydrate), breath hydrogen was significantly raised above basal concentrations within 10 minutes (81 +/- 27, 395 +/- 138 and 110 +/- 52% above basal respectively). A significant rise in breath hydrogen (75 +/- 21%) occurred 10 minutes after sham lactulose feeding (lactulose applied to oral cavity but not swallowed), but no early peak occurred after sham saccharin feeding (non-fermentable carbohydrate), intragastric or intraduodenal administration of lactulose. Ten of the 12 subjects given lactulose sham feeding were restudied after oral hygiene with chlorhexidine mouthwash. In these the early hydrogen peak was abolished. Oral hygiene also reduced the occurrence and magnitude of the early hydrogen rise after lactulose ingestion. These findings indicate that the early rise in breath hydrogen observed after ingestion of lactulose is produced by interaction with oral bacteria.
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