Passive intestinal permeability in 33 newborn babies was studied using feeds containing lactulose and mannitol. Each marker is thought to pass across the gut wall by a different route; lactulose by a paracellular and mannitol by a transcellular pathway. Neither is metabolised and both are wholly and solely excreted by the kidney; urinary recovery is a measure of the intestinal uptake. Babies born before 34 weeks' gestation exhibited a higher intestinal permeability to lactulose than more mature babies, and all preterm babies showed an appreciable decline in lactulose absorption during the first week of oral feeds. Babies of 34 to 37 weeks' gestation achieved a 'mature' intestinal permeability to lactulose within four days of starting oral feeds. These findings may reflect the immaturity of the gut of the preterm baby rather than a process essential to adaptation to enteral nutrition.
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