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June 1981

Effect of Sorbitol on Psychomotor Function: Its Use in Alcoholic Cirrhosis

Author Affiliations

From the Department of Medicine, Veterans Administration Medical Center, Hennepin County Medical Center and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Arch Intern Med. 1981;141(7):901-903. doi:10.1001/archinte.1981.00340070081017

• Sorbitol solution has been used as a control substance in evaluating the efficacy of lactulose therapy for hepatic encephalopathy (HE). However, recent in vitro studies suggested that sorbitol may not be an inert placebo and may have therapeutic relevance. We evaluated in vivo metabolism of sorbitol in healthy volunteers and alcoholic cirrhotic patients and found that sorbitol was metabolized by gut bacteria in a similar manner to lactulose. We next evaluated the effect of sorbitol treatment on five psychomotor performance tests in cirrhotic patients. Patients receiving sorbitol demonstrated improvement in all psychomotor tests, whereas similar patients not receiving sorbitol showed no improvement. We conclude the following: sorbitol is metabolized by gut bacteria in man, sorbitol therapy improved psychomotor performance in cirrhotic patients, and previous studies using sorbitol as a control underestimated the beneficial effects of lactulose.

(Arch Intern Med 1981;141:901-903)

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