Excessive intake of sorbitol, a sweetener commonly used in sugar-free chewing gum, sweets and many other ‘sugar-free’ products, could cause abdominal pain and diarrhoea. According to a report published in the British Medical journal (BMJ), researchers from the University of Berlin claim that excessive intake could also cause severe weight loss.
The study looks at the cases of two patients who developed chronic diarrhoea, abdominal pain and severe weight loss after consuming substantial amounts of sugar-free gum and sweets.
Diabetes UK's view
Commenting on the use of sweeteners, Jemma Edwards, Care Advisor at Diabetes UK, said: “We already know that many sweeteners such as Sorbitol have a laxative effect.
"Sorbitol is often used in foods labelled ‘diabetic’ such as chocolates, sweets and biscuits. As these foods tend to be ‘treat foods’ and have no sugar some people may think that it’s fine to eat large quantities.
"Diabetes UK does not recommend ‘diabetic’ food because there are no added nutritional benefits and they are often more expensive. People with diabetes can eat the same diet as people without diabetes as long as it is a healthy, balanced diet.”
Commenting on the study published in the BMJ, Dr Iain Frame, Director of Research at Diabetes UK, said: "This report is essentially a case study of two people consuming excessive amounts of sorbitol every day.
"The authors are warning that people may not be aware of the widely accepted side-effects of excessive consumption of sorbitol, and may therefore be unknowingly subjecting themselves to severe adverse effects.
"Still, this was not a controlled study and only included data from two people. It therefore does not offer any firm conclusions about the safety of sorbitol."