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An apple juice a day?


Pippi, aged 3, has been a little bit unwell of later.  Most of her family have had viral gastroenteritis and she has now got it too.  She’s been vomiting for the last 24 hours and is struggling to keep anything down.  Her parents are concerned that she is becoming dehydrated so they bring her into the ED.  She gets a sublingual ondansetron wafer and tries some oral rehydration solution.  “Yeuch!” she says as she spits it out, “That tastes disgusting.” You wonder if there is anything else you can try.

Today we are going to take a look at the following paper:-

What population did they look at?

Children aged 6 to 60 months that presented to the study a centre who met these inclusion criteria

The exclusion criteria essentially rule out children who have a number of pre-morbid conditions or who may have more serious underlying pathology.

What was the intervention they tried?

The intervention group had half-strength apple juice.

What did they compare this too?

This was compared to a standard apple-flavoured, sucralose sweetened paediatric electrolyte solution.

What were their outcome measures?

The primary outcome was treatment failure. This was a composite measure defined as any of the following occurring in the 7 days following enrolment.

  • hospitalization
  • intravenous hydration
  • subsequent unscheduled physician encounter for the same illness
  • protracted illness
  • physician request to crossover groups
  • 3% or more weight loss or a worsening of Clinical Dehydration Score

It’s easy to read the abstract of a trial and just agree with the conclusion but we should be more sceptical of what we read.  Using a validated tool such as that from the Best Evidence in Emergency Medicine group can help with critical appraisal.

Let’s go through the quality appraisal checklist for a randomized, control trial.

Quality Appraisal Checklist

So we can see that the trial appears to hold up to scrutiny with regard to its method and analysis.  What we really want to know is whether diluted apple juice is as good as the usual rehydration solution. The bottom line, according the study authors, is this:-

Among children with mild gastroenteritis and minimal dehydration, initial oral hydration with dilute apple juice followed by their preferred fluids, compared with electrolyte maintenance solution, resulted in fewer treatment failures.

In order to reduce the need for intravenous rehydration the team focussed both on stopping the vomiting (with sublingual ondansetron) and replacing potential losses. Interestingly, 68% of the children in the study had no clinical evidence of dehydration equating to a Clinical Dehydration Score of zero but still received oral rehydration solution or diluted apple juice.  Here lies the catch in this study.  Many of the patients we see in Australian paeds EDs are minimally or mildly dehydrated and thus the results of this study can probably be extrapolated to them.  ORS was designed for children with Cholera who had significant dehydration, ongoing fluid loss, and pathology that affected their ability to absorb enteral fluid (remember those glucose-sodium co-transporters from med school?).  ORS is safe and effective in pretty much any degree of dehydration whereas this study only demonstrates diluted juice is useful in the mildest of cases.  So by all means start handing out the dilute juice to many of the patients you see but don’t chuck out the Gastrolyte just yet!


Freedman SB, Willan AR, Boutis K, Schuh S. Effect of Dilute Apple Juice and Preferred Fluids vs Electrolyte Maintenance Solution on Treatment Failure Among Children With Mild Gastroenteritis: A Randomized Clinical Trial. JAMA. Published online April 30, 2016. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.5352 Full text here

Jauregui J, Nelson D, Choo E, Stearns B, Levine AC, Liebmann O, et al. (2014) External Validation and Comparison of Three Pediatric Clinical Dehydration Scales. PLoS ONE 9(5): e95739. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0095739 Full text here



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4 thoughts on “An apple juice a day?”

  1. “My take-away from this study is that, for mild volume depletion due to acute gastroenteritis in a developed country, the exact composition of oral rehydration liquid is not critical. The most important thing is that the child drink.”

    Back to flat lemonade?


  2. Some insightful comments, as always, Tim.

    I agree that the Hawthorne effect is probably present in both arms in the same way that children that are brought to the ED always seem to drink when observed, even when the parents say they have touched nothing all day. It’s important for clinicians to empower and educate the parents. I like to give them a 10 ml syringe and say “If you can get 10mls in every 15 minutes for a couple of hours then you are winning.” In the department I try and police this by getting them to set a 15 minute alarm on their mobile.

    It’s also important to make sure appropriate safety netting is in place, We often bring children back for a fluid review the next day. How useful this is I don’t know (might be worth an audit at some point) but I’m sure it makes parents feel more comfortable about going home.

  3. Great post — thank you, Dr Tagg!

    My take-away from this study is that, for mild volume depletion due to acute gastroenteritis in a developed country, the exact composition of oral rehydration liquid is not critical. The most important thing is that the child drink.

    To absorb water in the gut, the brush border enzymes require sodium, potassium, and glucose (Na-K ATPase pump). Cholera, for example, will deplete all of the above, and works against oral rehydration unless those components are present. Children in developed countries going to the ED are often only mildly to moderately volume depleted, and their total body stores of electrolytes are not dangerously low, so we get by with less-than-ideal rehydration solutions. ( )

    It is important to note that apple juice, if given full strength, will cause an osmotic diarrhea due to the high fructose content. If we counsel parents to use apple juice, make sure it is half-strength (diluted 1:1 juice to water)! Otherwise, we could be doing more harm.

    The WHO oral rehydration solution is for any level of dehydration, and includes Na, K, glucose; the packet has saved countless of lives and is inexpensive. At home, the recipe can get complicated, but for those parents interested, we can offer some simple recipes:

    My approach is to get them to take a few tablespoons every few minutes to keep their child out of the ED. For example, for a 10-kg 1-year-old infant, 6 tsp every 15 minutes will give him 50 mL/kg over 4 hours — not a bad alternative to IV, right? See:

    Coaching is the most important intervention!

    [If you want to end on a high note, stop now; read further if you are a little more skeptical]

    The authors did a fantastic job in this study, but I will push further and be a research jerk and say this: was there some sort of Hawthorne effect in both groups?

    All jerkitude on my part aside (really, I think we are sometimes too critical of studies, expecting too much from them), one of the main issues in continued oral rehydration at home is coaching the parents to “keep up the good (hard!) work”. Since both groups were enrolled in a study where they knew they were being scrutinized, perhaps the parents of both groups were more proactive/aggressive in their treatment. The non-inferiority status is achieved, because there would not have been any real difference in interventions, if confidence from coaching was the true effect, and solution composition was simply a confounder. It would have been nice had they included a third control group who got “zo-and-go” — ondansetron (Zofran) in the ED and discharge. The parents in this third group would have only gotten standard rehydration instructions.

    Regardless, the authors have helped us average Joes in the ED in that we have more evidence now to offer a less expensive 1:1 dilute apple juice for mild volume depletion/dehydration over the very expensive commercially available oral rehydration solutions.

    Just get ’em to eat something salty and maybe a mashed banana on the side.

    Thanks #DFTB crew! — Your friend, Tim