The fate of glucose in the colon of rats and man was investigated by measuring breath 14CO2 and fecal 14C after direct instillation of 14C-labeled glucose, acetate, and lactate into the cecum. For the 6 h after administration of as much as 400 mg of [U-14C]-glucose to the rat and 12.5 g to man, 14CO2 excretion was as rapid after intracecal as after intragastric instillation. Less than 20% of 14C instilled into the cecum as glucose was recovered in feces and only about 15% of this fecal 14C was in a dialyzable form. The conversion of intracecally administered glucose to CO2 was dependent upon the presence of the colonic flora, as evidenced by the minimal excretion of 14CO2 after administration of [14C]glucose to germ-free rats. In contrast, acetate and lactate, fermentation products of glucose, were converted to CO2 as rapidly in germ-free rats as in their conventional counterparts. Measurement of O2 availability in the colonic lumen indicated that insufficient O2 was available for the aerobic metabolism of glucose by the colonic bacteria. These experiments suggest that the colon bacteria anaerobically metabolize most of the glucose to short-chain fatty acids, which are absorbed and oxidized by the host. Most of the remaining fecal glucose is converted to a larger molecular form that has limited osmotic activity. Thus, the colonic flora benefits the host by reducing the osmotic load of nonabsorbed carbohydrate and by making possible the salvage of a large percentage of the calories of carbohydrate, which is not absorbed in the small bowel.
J H Bond Jr, M D Levitt