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Clin Perinatol. 1996 Jun;23(2):211-28.

Digestion, absorption, and fermentation of carbohydrates in the newborn.

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Department of Pediatrics, College of Medicine, Ohio State University, Columbus, USA.


In the newborn, sugars present in human milk and formulas are assimilated by both small intestinal digestion and, especially in the case of lactose, colonic bacterial fermentation. Colonic fermentation of carbohydrate serves three major functions: (1) conservation of a fraction of the metabolizable energy of dietary carbohydrate that is not absorbed in the small intestine; (2) prevention of osmotic diarrhea; and (3) production of short-chain fatty acids that stimulate sodium and water absorption, serve as fuel for colonocytes, and stimulate cell replication in colon and small intestine. Diarrhea produced in association with small bowel malabsorption of sugar may be caused by three, potentially overlapping mechanisms: (1) osmotic effects of unfermented sugar, which may cause secondary disruption of fermentation by purging the bacteria or diluting the bacteria mass; (2) damage to the colon mucosa from excessive fermentation leading to SCFA malabsorption and osmotic diarrhea on this basis; and (3) excessive fermentation leading to lowering of luminal pH and inhibition of bacterial enzymes. Therapy aimed at reducing diarrhea associated with sugar malabsorption might involve either slowing of motility to facilitate fermentation or stimulation of fermentative activity, but such interventions would depend on greater understanding of the mechanisms for colonic dysfunction in this condition.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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