Lactulose and lactitol, non-absorbable disaccharides, prevent bacterial translocation (BT) arising from the gut. In contrast, lack of food into the gut leads to coliform bacterial overgrowth and even if it does not cause BT, can induce the risk from other stimuli for BT. In this study, we tested whether lactulose and lactitol affected populations of coliform bacteria in the caecum during starvation in Sprague-Dawley rats. Three groups of rats were starved for 72 h and given oral 2 ml undiluted lactulose (670 mg/ml), 2 ml undiluted lactitol (666 mg/ml) or 2 ml physiological saline, respectively, once a day. The caecum and mesenteric lymph nodes (MLNs) were removed for microbiological and histopathological analyses. The highest degree of coliform bacterial overgrowth, BT to MLNs and histopathological damage were observed in lactulose-treated rats, followed by the group treated with lactitol. As a result of this study, both drugs, especially lactulose augmented the proliferation and translocation tendency of coliform bacteria in the caecum during 72-h starvation in rats. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Inc. All rights reserved.