Protein digestion and metabolism have been studied in laboratory rats and miniature pigs to investigate the mechanisms of action of lactulose and lactitol when used in the treatment of patients with portosystemic encephalopathy. Lactulose (beta-D-galactopyranosyl-(1----4)-beta-D-fructofuranose) and lactitol (beta-D-galactopyranosyl-(1----4)-D-glucitol) increased the excretion of nitrogenous material in the faeces and decreased nitrogen excretion in the urine in a similar degree to that reported for human patients. In studies with germ free rats given lactulose no such effect was observed, suggesting that, for lactulose at least, these effects are mediated by the gut flora. Measurement of the alpha-, epsilon-diaminopimelic acid content of the faeces confirmed that the enhancement of faecal nitrogen was due to an increased contribution from bacteria. The similarity in the results for lactulose and lactitol suggests that, from the perspective of protein metabolism, lactitol acts in a similar way to lactulose in the treatment of portosystemic encephalopathy.
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