The effects of ursodeoxycholic acid and chenodeoxycholic acid on the small-intestinal absorption of endogenous bile acids were studied in patients with ileostomies who served as a model to investigate small-intestinal absorption in humans. In the control period, the eight patients excreted 327 +/- 91 (mean +/- standard error of the mean) mumol/8 h cholic acid and 214 +/- 38 mumol/8 h chenodeoxycholic acid by their ileal fluid. Following ursodeoxycholic acid administration (500 mg), ileal excretion of cholic acid increased to 517 +/- 96 mumol/8 h, and that of chenodeoxycholic acid increased to 337 +/- 42 mumol/8 h, indicating decreased absorption of these bile acids. Following chenodeoxycholic acid administration (500 mg), no significant increase of cholic acid excretion was observed, whereas chenodeoxycholic acid excretion increased as expected. It is concluded that following ursodeoxycholic acid administration the absorption of common bile acids from the small intestine decreases markedly. This effect of ursodeoxycholic acid on intestinal absorption of common bile acids probably is responsible for the decrease of their plasma concentrations, the reduction of their pool sizes, the increase of their fractional turnover rates, and most likely also contributes to the increased hepatic synthesis of cholic acid.