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Olestra may distort test results

DALLAS, TEXAS. Olestra is a synthetic fat substitute that resembles fat in texture and taste; it is not absorbed by the body and therefore sharply reduces the number of calories which would normally be absorbed from snack foods like potato chips. The fact that olestra passes through the intestine without being absorbed results in a higher than normal fat content in the stool and this, claims researchers at the Baylor University Medical Center, can cause serious problems when testing patients for suspected steatorrhea (malabsorption of fats).

The researchers performed a controlled cross-over trial involving 10 healthy volunteers. The participants, in addition to their regular diet, consumed 5 oz of conventional potato chips per day on days 1 to 6 and 5 oz of chips containing olestra per day on days 7 to 12. The olestra chips provided 40 grams/day of olestra. A total of 104 individual stool samples obtained during the experiment were analyzed for fecal fat using four different methods. The fat content in the "olestra stools" varied between 14 and 23 grams/day. This compares to a normal upper limit of 7 grams/day. Thus people who have eaten olestra-containing snacks prior to being tested for malabsorption would be highly likely be diagnosed as suffering from steatorrhea. This, the researchers point out, could lead to unnecessary and expensive tests associated with serious complications. Olestra may remain in the stool for up to seven days so it is important that physicians ensure that their patients have not consumed olestra in the week prior to being tested for steatorrhea.
Balasekaran, Ranga, et al. Positive results on tests for steatorrhea in persons consuming olestra potato chips. Annals of Internal Medicine, Vol. 132, February 15, 2000, pp. 279-82

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