Clinical trials suggest that including naturally occurring complex carbohydrate in oral rehydration solutions (ORS) in place of glucose increases water absorption and reduces stool volume during acute diarrhoea. The mechanisms for this greater clinical efficacy has not been established. This study examined the ability of two hypotonic rice based ORS, RS-ORS (137 mOsm/kg) and RP-ORS (143 mOsm/kg), and HYPO-ORS (240 mOsm/kg) a glucose equivalent ORS, to effect water absorption by in vivo perfusion of normal and secreting rat small intestine. The results were compared with those for two widely used conventional hypertonic ORS, WHO-ORS (331 mOsm/kg) and UK-ORS (310 mOsm/kg). In the normal intestine, water absorption was similar from WHO-ORS (87.4 (45.1-124.6) microliters/min/g; median and interquartile range) and UK-ORS (57.6 (41.5-87)) but less than from the hypotonic solutions (p < 0.02); water absorption from RS-ORS (181.8 (168.5-193.8)) and RP-ORS (195.7 (179.3-207.9)) was similar but less than from HYPO-ORS (241.3 (230.6-279.7); p < 0.005). In the secreting intestine, all ORS reversed net secretion of fluid to net absorption; the hypotonic solutions, HYPO-ORS (105.2 (95.2-111)), RS-ORS (127.7 (118.3-169.4)) and RP-ORS (133.7 (122.1-174.5)), produced more water absorption (p < 0.005) than the hypertonic solutions WHO-ORS (47.1 (29-75.9)) and UK-ORS (24.9 (18.4-29.4)). The rice based ions promoted most water absorption in secreting intestine (p < 0.007). These data indicate that low osmolality is of primary importance in mediating the increased water absorption from cereal based ORS.