(NaturalNews) The artificial sweetener sorbitol can cause severe bowel problems, including diarrhea, pain and extreme weight loss, German doctors said in an article published in the British Medical Journal.
"Our cases demonstrate that sorbitol consumption can cause not only chronic diarrhea and functional bowel complaints but also considerable unintended weight loss - about 20 percent of usual body weight," wrote Dr. Juergen Bauditz and colleagues from the University of Berlin.
Sorbitol, also known as E420, has long been known to function as a laxative, in part because it is poorly absorbed by the small intestine. But because these effects are not widely known, doctors confronting seemingly unexplained cases of severe bowel distress might not think to investigate their patients' sorbitol consumption.
The authors became aware of sorbitol's dangerous effects when confronted with two patients who had suffered diarrhea, abdominal pain and severe weight loss. A 21-year-old woman had been suffering from her symptoms for eight months and lost more than 20 pounds before doctors identified the cause of her problem. Another man lost 49 pounds after suffering from diarrhea for a year.
In both cases, doctors eventually discovered that the patients were chewing between 15 and 20 sticks of sugar-free gum each day.
According to Bauditz, consuming as little as 5 to 20 grams of sorbitol at a time could cause minor stomach bloating and cramps. Any more than this amount could lead to the serious symptoms seen in the two patients.
Each stick of sugar-free gum contains about 1.25 grams of sorbitol, meaning that chewing as few as four sticks in a short period could cause minor stomach distress.
Bauditz found that both patients had been replacing their gum fairly frequently, thus exposing themselves to a high dose of sorbitol in a fairly short time.
The authors urged all doctors investigating unexplained weight loss to conduct an investigation into their patients' dietary sorbitol intake.