Association between faecal pH and fat absorption in children with cystic fibrosis on a controlled diet and enzyme supplements dose

Joaquim Calvo-Lerma, Maria Roca, Mieke Boon, Carla Colombo, Barbara de Koning, Victoria Fornés-Ferrer, Etna Masip, Maria Garriga, Anna Bulfamante, Andrea Asensio-Grau, Ana Andrés, Kris de Boeck, Jessie Hulst, Carmen Ribes-Koninckx

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Despite treatment with pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy (PERT), patients with cystic fibrosis (CF) can still suffer from fat malabsorption. A cause could be low intestinal pH disabling PERT. The aim of this study was to assess the association between faecal pH (as intestinal pH surrogate) and coefficient of fat absorption (CFA). Additionally, faecal free fatty acids (FFAs) were quantified to determine the amount of digested, but unabsorbed fat. Methods: In a 24-h pilot study, CF patients followed a standardised diet with fixed PERT doses, corresponding to theoretical optimal doses determined by an in vitro digestion model. Study variables were faecal pH, fat and FFA excretion, CFA and transit time. Linear mixed regression models were applied to explore associations. Results: In 43 patients, median (1st, 3rd quartile) faecal pH and CFA were 6.1% (5.8, 6.4) and 90% (84, 94), and they were positively associated (p < 0.001). An inverse relationship was found between faecal pH and total fat excretion (p < 0.01), as well as total FFA (p = 0.048). Higher faecal pH was associated with longer intestinal transit time (p = 0.049) and the use of proton pump inhibitors (p = 0.009). Conclusions: Although the clinical significance of faecal pH is not fully defined, its usefulness as a surrogate biomarker for intestinal pH should be further explored. Impact: Faecal pH is a physiological parameter that may be related to intestinal pH and may provide important physiopathological information on CF-related pancreatic insufficiency.Faecal pH is correlated with fat absorption, and this may explain why pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy is not effective in all patients with malabsorption related to CF.Use of proton pump inhibitors is associated to higher values of faecal pH.Faecal pH could be used as a surrogate biomarker to routinely monitor the efficacy of pancreatic enzyme replacement therapy in clinical practice.Strategies to increase intestinal pH in children with cystic fibrosis should be targeted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)205-210
JournalPediatric Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2021

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pediatrics, Perinatology, and Child Health


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