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Carbohydrate malabsorption is a frequent digestive problem associated with abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea. Hydrogen breath testing (BT) represents the most reliable and validated diagnostic technique. The aim of this manuscript was to clarify the usefulness of BTs in the nutritional management of these disorders. A literature search for BT related to carbohydrate malabsorption was carried out using the online databases of Pubmed, Medline and Cochrane. Lactose BT showed good sensitivity and optimal specificity for lactose malabsorption. However, an accurate diagnosis of lactose intolerance should require blind lactose challenge although this method is difficult to utilize in clinical practice. Regarding dose-depending fructose and sorbitol malabsorption, BTs could not add diagnostic advantage compared with a direct dietary intervention. In addition, carbohydrates are fundamental components of fermentable oligo-, di- and monosaccharides and polyols (FODMAPs). Before starting a low FODMAP diet, lactose BT should be suggested in a population with low prevalence of hypolactasia. BTs represent a valid and noninvasive technique in many digestive conditions. Regarding the management of carbohydrate intolerance, lactose BT can be recommended with some limitations. No sufficient evidence is available about the usefulness of BTs for other sugars in clinical practice.


Paolo Usai-Satta, Francesco Oppia, Mariantonia Lai, Francesco Cabras. Hydrogen Breath Tests: Are They Really Useful in the Nutritional Management of Digestive Disease? Nutrients. 2021 Mar 17;13(3)

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PMID: 33802839

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