1. To investigate whether carbohydrate contributes to postprandial hypotension in autonomic failure, the cardiovascular, biochemical and hormonal effects of oral glucose and an iso-osmotic solution of oral xylose were studied on separate occasions in six patients with chronic autonomic failure. The effects of oral glucose were also studied in eight normal subjects.

2. In the patients oral glucose lowered blood pressure substantially (−34 ± 7% at 60 min, area under curve −24.9 ± 3.5%, P < 0.001) and for a prolonged period (− 25 ± 4% at 120 min). Plasma noradrenaline levels did not change. In the normal subjects blood pressure was unchanged and plasma noradrenaline rose, suggesting a compensatory increase in sympathetic nervous activity.

3. In the patients xylose caused a smaller and more transient fall in blood pressure (−15 ± 6% at 90 min, area under curve −8.9 ± 4%, P < 0.05) with a non-significant elevation in packed cell volume (36.7 ± 1.8 to 38.2 ± 1.8). It was therefore unclear if xylose was exerting osmotic effects within the bowel which contributed to the small blood pressure fall. Packed cell volume did not change in either the patients or normal subjects after glucose.

4. In the patients and normal subjects plasma insulin rose after glucose. Insulin levels were unchanged after xylose. Levels of pancreatic polypeptide and neurotensin, a potential vasodilator, rose in the patients only. The latter rose to a similar extent after both glucose and xylose, making it unlikely that neurotensin alone accounted for the hypotension.

5. These studies indicate that the carbohydrate components of a meal, and in particular those causing insulin release, contribute to postprandial hypotension in patients with autonomic failure.

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