There are several harmless reasons why some people experience stomach cramps after eating too much sugar, but there are also a few serious reasons. Severe cramps that last a long time, keep recurring, or are accompanied by other symptoms like fever, nausea, vomiting and bleeding, are warning you to get to your physician, and fast. As for the harmless reasons, simple dietary adjustments can help prevent the problem.
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The most likely reason for your stomach to hurt after eating too much sugar is simply gas. According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, most carbohydrates can cause gas. Sugar, of course, is one type of carbohydrate. The gas can build up in different parts of the intestines, making it easy to mistake for a more serious condition like heart disease, gallstones or appendicitis.
According to Nationwide Children’s Hospital, sometimes sugar doesn’t fully digest in the upper intestine. As it progresses through your system, it can ferment in the lower intestine and produce gas. Sometimes the gas will pass right on out, other times it will just cause a painful bloated feeling. This type of stomach cramp will appear a few hours after a sugar binge.
The way the sugar is coming into your body may also give you a clue to the source of trouble. If the sugar comes in the form of an ice cream sundae, it could be the lactose in the milk that is producing the cramps. Lactose is a milk sugar, and it produces gas and diarrhea in some people. Many lactose-intolerant folks either avoid dairy altogether or use over-the counter pills that supply an enzyme to help digest milk painlessly.
Extreme heat can also be a factor in sugar-related stomach cramps. Excessive amounts of sugar, just like caffeine and alcohol, can cause your body to release too much fluid. In hot weather, this puts you at increased risk for dehydration and heat exhaustion. Stomach cramps are among the first signs of heat-related illness. Additionally, the CDC advises that very cold drinks can cause stomach cramps. This information adds up to a painful picture: On an extremely hot day, you might reach for a mega-sized, frosty-cold fruit punch to cool down. The combination of the high heat, dehydration, and very cold sugary liquid can all work together to produce stomach cramps.
The easiest way to avoid sugar-related stomach cramps is to avoid excessive amounts of refined sugars. Instead of drinking sugary sodas on hot days, reach for a glass of water or a low-sugar sports drink. Eat a wide variety of healthy foods from across all the food groups. Sugar-related cramping should not last more than a day or two, so if you continue to feel poorly, or if they cramps are accompanied by other symptoms, be sure to see your doctor.
REFERENCES & RESOURCES
- National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse: Gas in the Digestive Tract
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Tips for Preventing Heat-Related Illness
- Nationwide Children’s Hospital: Abdominal Pain
- MayoClinic: Gas and Gas Pains
- Genetics Home Reference: Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency