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Complex Carb Intolerance

author image Linda Ray
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."
Complex Carb Intolerance
Peppers are on top of a bratwurst. Photo Credit: MackoFlower/iStock/Getty Images

Complex carbohydrate intolerance is an official medical condition, according to PeaceHealth Medical Group. The gastrointestinal disorder affects million of Americans and is distinguished by the absence of a certain enzyme in the digestive system. Complex carbohydrate intolerance, also referred to as CCI, leads to uncomfortable symptoms that may be managed with lifestyle changes and medication.

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Gas, bloating, diarrhea, constipation and stomachaches are typical symptoms of CCI and often are mistaken for more serious conditions, such as a heart attack or gastroesophageal reflux disease. In infants and small children, the condition can cause severe diarrhea and the inability to gain weight. Gurgling in your stomach can lead to embarrassing flatulence. Cramping and discomfort usually begin within 30 minutes to two hours after you've eaten the offending carbohydrate. Glucose in the carbs that hasn't been digested is flushed out of your system and can lead to watery diarrhea. Severity of symptoms depends on how low your system is in the digestive enzymes.


The enzyme alpha-galactosidase is necessary to turn the glucose in complex carbohydrates into digestible hydrolyzed material. When undigested, complex carbs produce hydrogen that leads to the uncomfortable and painful symptoms. Complex carbohydrates are an integral part of a healthy diet and include whole grains, nuts, seeds, cereal and vegetables. Insufficient enzymes do not allow the small intestine to properly absorb and transport glucose from the food.

Side Effects

As a result of the discomfort and embarrassment you experience when you eat complex carbs, you may avoid the healthy foods, which leads to a higher risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease and some cancers. According to PeaceHealth Medical Group, complex carbohydrate intolerance is a rare, inherited medical condition, so it may not be diagnosed immediately. Undiagnosed patients may need extensive and expensive tests to find the root of the problem. Physical fitness decreases overall. According to Food Reactions, a nonprofit site written by a researcher at the British National Institute of Health, complex carbohydrate intolerance may play a significant role in obesity. Men are more prone to the condition, which also can lead to metabolic disorders.


Enzyme replacement therapy is an effective treatment for CCI. The therapy may be provided by your doctor in the form of a powder mixed with fluids and taken at the same time you eat carbohydrates. The only over-the-counter treatment for complex carb intolerance is alpha-galactosidase, an enzyme that may help you tolerate the carbs more effectively. The ingredients may help break down the complex carbohydrates and aid digestion, according to the Langone Medical Center. While safe for most people to use, the effects are mostly anecdotal. You should consult your doctor before taking any over-the-counter medications to relieve digestive disorders. Herbs and OTC medications can interact with other drugs you may be taking to treat unrelated conditions. Additionally, in some people, OTC medications can worsen CCI.

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