You may enjoy your sweets, but diarrhea after eating sugar is no fun. While diarrhea can occur from any number of causes, if you're connecting your stomach pain and trips to the bathroom with your candy consumption, then it may be due to an overabundance of the sweet stuff. To be safe, consult with your doctor to be sure it's not something more serious.
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It's possible that eating sweets may cause diarrhea. Consult with your doctor for a formal diagnosis.
What Is Diarrhea?
If you're experiencing loose, watery bowel movements more than three times in one day, then you have diarrhea, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Diarrhea is very common and affects more than half the United States population every year. For most people, the loose, watery stools clear up within a day or two without causing any serious health issues.
Diarrhea may not seem like a serious health issue, but for some, it may be more persistent or even chronic. Long-term diarrhea increases your risk of dehydration and may affect electrolyte balance. You may also experience malabsorption, which can lead to malnutrition.
You may not need to visit your doctor if your diarrhea is infrequent, but if you have diarrhea on a more regular basis, you should schedule an evaluation. Knowing the cause of your frequent trips to the bathroom ensures you take the right steps to reduce their occurrence.
Read more: Foods to Eat to Stop Diarrhea
Stimulating Effects of Sugar
Diarrhea after eating sugar is a real thing. The sugar in your sweet treat is highly concentrated. When it hits your digestive tract, your stomach does everything it can to dilute the sugar with water and electrolytes. The increase in fluid causes the contents of your stomach to move too quickly to your small intestines. Your small intestines then dumps even more water into your digestive tract and also releases hormones that stimulate the movement of your treat through your system.
Your diarrhea symptoms after eating sugar may occur within 30 minutes. You may also experience bloating, abdominal pain or nausea. About 1 to 3 hours after your diarrhea, you may feel jittery, lightheaded or weak. These later symptoms are due to a drop in blood sugar. When your digestive system triggers the release of the hormones that aid in digestion, it also triggers your pancreas to produce insulin, which may cause low blood sugar levels.
Candy may not be the only sweet food responsible for your loose, watery stools. Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruits and consuming it may also lead to diarrhea. According to gastroenterologist and Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Norton Greenberger, most people experience diarrhea if they consume more than 40 grams of fructose in a day. For perspective, a medium apple has 10 grams of fructose. So if you eat four apples or another combination of fruits that total 40 grams of fructose, you may have some tummy trouble.
Read more: 5 Easy Ways to Cut Down on Sugar
Could It Be Sugar Intolerance?
It's possible that your diarrhea after eating too many sweets may also be due to a sugar intolerance. According to a January 2015 review published in Current Gastroenterology Reports, fructose intolerance is on the rise, and many of those diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome may actually have fructose intolerance.
According to the authors of the review, fructose requires special transport proteins for absorption. If you lack these proteins, or simply don't have enough to absorb the fructose in your gut, your digestive system floods your small intestines with water, which leads to abdominal pain, bloating and diarrhea.
The fructose that causes the problems isn't found only in fruit. It may also be from foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup, which may include your sweet treat, can of cola or even your salad dressing.
If you suspect your diarrhea may be due to sugar intolerance, talk to your doctor. You may be able to undergo a simple breath test to diagnose your fructose intolerance.
Read more: Foods to Eat After Diarrhea
Watch Those Artificial Sweeteners
Even your sugar-free sweets can cause tummy trouble, specifically those made with sugar alcohols such as sorbitol or mannitol. Sugar alcohols add sweetness to your treats, but your body has a hard time absorbing them. You may enjoy saving a few calories or reducing your sugar intake with your sugar-free treats, but the consequences off eating too much sugar alcohols can make them a bit disappointing.
Sugar alcohols are used to sweeten many sugar-free products, from gum to ice cream to baked goods. Read the ingredients list of your favorite "diet" foods to see if they're the reason you may be spending too much time in the bathroom.
- National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases: "Diarrhea"
- Harvard Health Publishing: "Is Something in Your Diet Causing Diarrhea?"
- MyFoodData: "Apple, Raw"
- USDA: Food Composition Database: Nutrients List: "Fructose"
- Current Gastroenterology Reports: "Dietary Fructose Intolerance, Fructan Intolerance and FODMAPs"
- Food and Drug Administration: "High Fructose Corn Syrup Questions and Answers"
- International Journal of Dentistry: "Gastrointestinal Disturbances Associated With the Consumption of Sugar Alcohols With Special Consideration of Xylitol: Scientific Review and Instructions for Dentists and Other Health Care Professionals"
- International Food Information Council: "Sugar Alcohols Fact Sheet"