Intestinal Inflammation After Sugar Alcohol

Your intestines are sensitive to inflammation, which can cause pain, diarrhea and bleeding. One thing that can affect the health of your intestines is what foods you eat. Sugar alcohols are a type of carbohydrate in the diet that can cause intestinal problems, though they do not directly cause inflammation. If you experience intestinal problems after consuming sugar alcohols, talk to your doctor.

Close-up of a spoon containing sorbitol about to be dropped into a cup of tea.
Credit: Photosiber/iStock/Getty Images

What Are Sugar Alcohols?

Sugar alcohols get their name from the fact that they have some chemical characteristics of sugars and some of alcohols. Sugar alcohols do not contain any ethanol, the chemical found in alcoholic beverages. Sugar alcohols are often used as a substitute for sugar because they are incompletely absorbed by the body. As a result, they provide fewer calories than standard sugars but they still taste sweet. Commonly used sugar alcohols are mannitol, erythritol, lacitol and sorbitol.

Intestinal Inflammation

The intestines come into direct contact with the outside world due to their role in breaking down and absorbing the nutrients from food. As a result, the intestines can become irritated and inflamed, potentially resulting in poor absorption of nutrients, abdominal pain, diarrhea and even bleeding. The intestines can become inflamed due to substances that are ingested, as a result of bacterial infection or due to the immune system attacking the lining of the intestines.

Sugar Alcohols and Intestinal Problems

Ingesting a large amount of sugar alcohols can cause diarrhea, as your digestive tract cannot fully absorb sugar alcohols. As a result, if large amounts of sugar alcohols pass through the digestive tract, they can generate a loose and watery stool. Sugar alcohols also serve as a food source for bacteria that live in the intestines. Sugar alcohols can cause these bacteria to thrive, which may also cause diarrhea, pain and other digestive problems. However, there does not appear to be any direct link between sugar alcohol consumption and intestinal inflammation.

Considerations

Actual inflammation of the intestines usually requires the expertise of a doctor to accurately identify and diagnose. As a result, you may have problems such as abdominal pain and diarrhea without the appearance of clinically significant inflammation of your digestive tract. If you notice digestive problems after consuming foods with sugar alcohols, avoid or limit these products. If your symptoms persist, talk to your doctor to see if there is an underlying condition causing your gastrointestinal problems.

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