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Geography of intestinal permeability and absorption

Abstract

BACKGROUND Intestinal morphology and function vary geographically.

AIMS These functions were assessed in asymptomatic volunteers in European, North American, Middle Eastern, Asian, African, and Caribbean countries.

METHODS Five hour urine collections were obtained from each subject following ingestion of a 100 ml iso-osmolar test solution containing 3–0-methyl-d-glucose,d-xylose, l-rhamnose, and lactulose after an overnight fast, to assess active (3–0-methyl-d-glucose) and passive (d-xylose) carrier mediated, and non-mediated (l-rhamnose) absorption capacity, as well as intestinal permeability (lactulose:rhamnose ratio).

RESULTS A comparison of results for subjects from tropical countries (n=218) with those resident in the combined temperate and subtropical region (Europe, United States, Qatar) (n=224) showed significant differences. Residents in tropical areas had a higher mean lactulose:rhamnose ratio and lower mean five hour recoveries of 3–0-methyl-d-glucose,d-xylose, and l-rhamnose, indicating higher intestinal permeability and lower absorptive capacity. Investigation of visiting residents suggested that differences in intestinal permeability and absorptive capacity were related to the area of residence. Subjects from Texas and Qatar, although comprised of several ethnic groups and resident in a subtropical area, showed no significant difference from European subjects.

CONCLUSIONS There are clearly demarcated variations in intestinal permeability and absorptive capacity affecting asymptomatic residents of different geographical areas which correspond with the condition described as tropical enteropathy. Results suggest the importance of environmental factors. The parameters investigated may be relevant to the predisposition of the indigenous population and travellers to diarrhoeal illness and malnutrition. Intestinal function in patients from the tropics may be difficult to interpret, but should take into account the range of values found in the asymptomatic normal population.

  • intestinal permeability
  • absorption
  • tropical enteropathy
  • non-invasive sugar absorption/permeability test
  • Abbreviations

    GDP
    gross domestic product
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