Dietary sulphate may affect colonic pathophysiology because sulphate availability determines in part the activity of sulphate reducing bacteria in the bowel. The main product of sulphate reducing bacterial oxidative metabolism, hydrogen sulphide, is potentially toxic. Although it is generally believed that the sulphate ion is poorly absorbed, there are no available data on how much sulphate reaches the colon nor on the relative contributions from diet and endogenous sources. To resolve these questions, balance studies were performed on six healthy ileostomists and three normal subjects chosen because they did not have detectable sulphate reducing bacteria in their faeces. The subjects were fed diets which varied in sulphate content from 1.6-16.6 mmol/day. Sulphate was measured in diets, faeces (ileal effluent in ileostomists), and urine by anion exchange chromatography with conductivity detection. Overall there was net absorption of dietary sulphate, with the absorptive capacity of the gastrointestinal tract plateauing at 5 mmol/day in the ileostomists and exceeding 16 mmol/day in the normal subjects. Endogenous secretion of sulphate in the upper gastrointestinal tract was from 0.96-2.6 mmol/day. The dietary contribution to the colonic sulphate pool ranged up to 9 mmol/day, there being linear identity between diet and upper gastrointestinal losses for intakes above 7 mmol/day. Faecal losses of sulphate were trivial (less than 0.5 mmol/day) in the normal subjects at all doses. It is concluded that diet and intestinal absorption are the principal factors affecting the amounts of sulphate reaching the colon. Endogenous secretion of sulphate by colonic mucosa may also be important in determining amounts of sulphate in the colon.
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