Maturation of mechanisms for carbohydrate absorption occurs in a defined sequence during human fetal development. The intestinal enzymes, lactase, sucrase, maltase, isomaltase, and glucoamylase, are at mature levels in the term fetus. Mature levels of pancreatic amylase activity and glucose transport occur postnatally, and levels are low in both the term and preterm neonate. In the preterm infant, sucrase, maltase, and isomaltase are usually fully active, but lactase activity, which increases markedly from 24 to 40 weeks, may be low depending upon fetal age. Despite these developmental patterns, clinical lactose intolerance is uncommon. Postnatal adaptive responses to ingested carbohydrates lead to competent carbohydrate absorption. Inadequately absorbed carbohydrates are salvaged by colonic flora through fermentation of carbohydrates to hydrogen gas and short-chain fatty acids; the latter are readily absorbed by the colon. In this setting, carbohydrate tends to be absent from the stool. Noninvasive reflection of the status of carbohydrate absorption may be obtained from breath hydrogen testing, a technique of particular value in young infants.
- Copyright © 1985 by the American Academy of Pediatrics