The normal gut is adapted to intermittent feeding with complex macromolecular substrates of low sodium content. The high permeability of the upper small intestine to sodium, together with sodium rich saliva and pancreaticobiliary secretions results in large sodium fluxes into the lumen. These substantial sodium influxes are matched by equally large effluxes from the ileum and proximal colon, which are comparatively impermeable to sodium and capable of active sodium absorption. Resection of these distal, sodium absorbing regions of the intestine, lead to problems with sodium depletion. Controlled transit of chyme is essential to permit time for optimum digestion and absorption and a range of feedback control mechanisms exist. Partially digested nutrients, both in the duodenum and ileum, exert inhibitory feedback to delay delivery of further nutrients and here again surgery may compromise these reflexes. Brush border hydrolase values are strongly influenced by luminal nutrient concentrations, being impaired by malnutrition and total parenteral nutrition, but restored by enteral feeding. Viscous fibre slows absorption and may delay transit through mechanisms that are as yet uncertain. Whether and how novel substrates activate normal control mechanisms will be important factors determining their effectiveness and patient acceptability.
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