Malnutrition and absence of exogenous luminal nutrients in the gastrointestinal tract affect intestinal permeability (IP) leading to an increased penetration of substances that passively cross intestinal epithelium via intercellular pathways. We hypothesised that an increase in IP could occur in patients with anorexia nervosa because of their prolonged fasting and chronic malnutrition. Therefore, we assessed IP in 14 drug-free anorexic women and 19 drug-free age-matched healthy women by means of the lactulose/mannitol (LA/MA) test. To this purpose, after an overnight fast, subjects ingested an oral solution containing 5 g lactulose and 2 g mannitol in 100 ml water. Urine specimens were collected immediately before and 30, 60, 120, 180, 240 and 300 min after the ingestion of the sugar solution. Urinary lactulose and mannitol were determined by high-performance anion exchange chromatography coupled with pulsed amperometric detection. We found that IP, as expressed by the 5-h LA/MA excretion ratio, was significantly decreased in anorexic women because of a lower urinary recovery of lactulose. Moreover, in patients, the time course of lactulose excretion significantly differs from healthy controls. These results do not confirm our hypothesis of increased IP in anorexia nervosa. Since IP reflects the anatomo-functional status of intestinal mucosa, the present findings support the idea that changes in the anatomo-physiology of intestinal mucosa occur in anorexia nervosa.
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