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A widely used method in assessing small bowel permeability is the lactulose:mannitol test, where the lactulose:mannitol ratio (LMR) is measured. However, there is discrepancy in how the test is conducted and in the values of LMR obtained across studies. This meta-analysis aims to determine LMR in healthy subjects, coeliac and Crohn's disease. A literature search was performed using PRISMA guidance to identify studies assessing LMR in coeliac or Crohn's disease. 19 studies included in the meta-analysis measured gut permeability in coeliac disease, 17 studies in Crohn's disease. Outcomes of interest were LMR values and comparisons of standard mean difference (SMD) and weighted mean difference (WMD) in healthy controls, inactive Crohn's, active Crohn's, treated coeliac and untreated coeliac. Pooled estimates of differences in LMR were calculated using the random effects model. Pooled LMR in healthy controls was 0.014 (95% CI: 0.006-0.022) while pooled LMRs in untreated and treated coeliac were 0.133 (95% CI: 0.089-0.178) and 0.037 (95% CI: 0.019-0.055). In active and inactive Crohn's disease, pooled LMRs were 0.093 (95% CI: 0.031-0.156) and 0.028 (95% CI: 0.015-0.041). Significant differences were observed in LMR between: (1) healthy controls and treated coeliacs (SMD = 0.409 95% CI 0.034 to 0.783, p = 0.032), (2) healthy controls and untreated coeliacs (SMD = 1.362 95% CI: 0.740 to 1.984, p < 0.001), (3) treated coeliacs and untreated coeliacs (SMD = 0.722 95% CI: 0.286 to 1.157, p = 0.001), (4) healthy controls and inactive Crohn's (SMD = 1.265 95% CI: 0.845 to 1.686, p < 0.001), (5) healthy controls and active Crohn's (SMD = 2.868 95% CI: 2.112 to 3.623, p < 0.001), and (6) active Crohn's and inactive Crohn's (SMD = 1.429 (95% CI: 0.580 to 2.278, p = 0.001). High heterogeneity was observed, which was attributed to variability in protocols used across different studies. The use of gut permeability measurements in screening and monitoring of coeliac and Crohn's disease is promising. LMR is useful in performing this function with significant limitations. More robust alternative tests with higher degrees of clinical evidence are needed if measurements of gut permeability are to find widespread clinical use. © 2022. The Author(s).


Jonathan Gan, Scarlet Nazarian, Julian Teare, Ara Darzi, Hutan Ashrafian, Alex J Thompson. A case for improved assessment of gut permeability: a meta-analysis quantifying the lactulose:mannitol ratio in coeliac and Crohn's disease. BMC gastroenterology. 2022 Jan 10;22(1):16

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PMID: 35012471

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