The efficacy of a low-fat diet to manage the symptoms of bile acid malabsorption – outcomes in patients previously treated for cancer

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Dietary fat ingestion triggers bile secretion into the gastrointestinal tract. Bile acid malabsorption affects >1% of the population, causing loose stool and other gastrointestinal symptoms. The diagnosis is frequently missed. Treatments are often considered ineffective. We evaluated low-fat diets for managing gastrointestinal symptoms in these patients. All patients reporting type 6 or 7 stool were offered a selenium-75 homocholic acid taurine (SeHCAT) scan. Prospective data in patients with 7-day scan retention <20% were analysed. ­Patients requiring a bile acid sequestrant were given this before receiving dietary advice. Patients completed a 7-day food diary before dietetic consultations. Personalised dietary interventions, providing 20% of daily energy from fat, were prescribed. Symptoms were assessed using a modified gastrointestinal symptom rating scale questionnaire before and 4–12 weeks after dietary intervention. A total of 114 patients (49 male, median age 64 years, median body mass index 27 kg/m2) were evaluated. 44% of these patients were taking colesevelam. After dietary intervention, there was statistically significant improvement in abdominal pain and nocturnal defecation (0.2% alpha, p=0.001). Improvement in bowel frequency, urgency, flatulence, belching, borborygmi and stool consistency were seen, but did not reach statistical significance (p≤0.004–0.031). Dietary intervention is an effective treatment option for patients with symptomatic bile acid malabsorption and should be routinely considered.

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