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A little-studied digestive disorder may explain those feelings of constant exhaustion, headaches and sweet cravings
Do you experience ongoing unexplained exhaustion, irritability and digestive discomforts? There are many digestive disorders such as Ulcerative Colitis, Celiac’s disease and lactose intolerance that are associated with these symptoms, which is why it is hard for many sufferers to find the right diagnosis and get relief. However, new studies on the digestive disorder called Fructose Malabsorption may explain many unsolved cases of fatigue, irritability and digestive upset.
What is Fructose Malabsorption?
Fructose malabsorption is a digestive disorder that occurs when one can not effectively absorb and process fructose in the digestive tract. After awhile and without correction, the symptoms multiply and worsen. When those with this issue eat too much (or the wrong balance) of fructose, the unabsorbed sugar is broken down by the bacteria in the intestines and leads to digestive problems like gurgling, sweet cravings and nauseousness, among others. This can also lead to an imbalance of Tryptophan in the system which can cause mood swings, brain fog and depression. Since these symptoms are common to many digestive disorders, Fructose Malabsortion sufferers that are unaware of their disorder can have a hard time finding an answer. It is often misdiagnosed as IBS, celiac’s disease or lactose intolerance. Many try to cut out gluten, try detoxes, and avoid lactose in the hopes of getting a handle on their symptoms. If you have any of the following symptoms and have ruled out other digestive disorders such as IBS or celiac’s, you may have fructose Malabsorption.
Those suffering from this imbalance may experience some (or all!) of these symptoms:
What is Fructose?
Fructose is a simple sugar or ‘monosaccharide.’ Along with glucose it makes up half of the properties of white table sugar. Fructose is sweeter than sucrose, and much sweeter than glucose. Hence, fructose is often added to “reduced calorie” foods to increase the sweet taste without adding the extra calories. Fructose is often used in foods recommended for diabetics to provide sweetness, while avoiding the insulin-dependent mechanisms required for the metabolism of glucose. These additional sources of fructose need to be avoided by people who have a problem with the absorption of fructose.
I may have Fructose Malabsorption. What can I do?
If you suspect that fructose malabsorption might be the cause of your ongoing fatigue and digestive upset, you might want to do the following:
Fructose Malabsorption is more common than you think...
In one study, 70% of those tested were positive for fructose malabsorption and some feel it is even more common than lactose intolerance.
Research has also found that a large segment of those with Irritable Bowel Syndrome also suffer from Fructose malabsorption.
Unfortunately, a lot of Doctors and Health Professionals are not familiar with the problem and it’s symptoms. If you think you have Fructose Malabsorption, do some research and bring your findings into your Doctor!
Have you also had trouble in diagnosing a disorder that you were suffering from?
What helped you figure out what was causing your symptoms?
The stories of others’ journey to health often help those who haven’t found their answers. Please leave a comment with your responses!
Paula Tipton-Healy L.M, CiHom
Homeopathic & Nutritional Consultant
Vickerstaff Health Services Inc.
Intolerance of fructose, especially in childhood, probably occurs more frequently than diagnostic figures currently suggest. The condition usually presents as loose stools or diarrhea after consumption of fruits such as apples and pears, or the juice of these fruits. Fructose intolerance is usually caused by impaired absorption of fructose. However, there are rare cases in which intolerance of fructose is due to a deficiency in one of the enzymes responsible for the digestion of fructose.
The Mechanism of Fructose Malabsorption
Intestinal fructose absorption depends on an energy-requiring carrier mechanism which is facilitated by glucose. The process is not entirely understood, but when there is an excess of fructose, glucose is preferentially absorbed, resulting in inefficient absorption of the fructose. The resultant unabsorbed fructose moves into the large bowel where it causes an increase in osmotic pressure, and a net influx or reduced outflow of water, resulting in loose stool or frank diarrhea.
Sucrose contains both glucose and fructose in a 1:1 ratio. However, some
sucrose-containing fruits such as apples and pears contain a higher fructose to glucose ratio than most other fruits. Diarrhea after eating apples, pears, or their juices, when no other cause for the loose stool is evident, is usually a sign that fructose malabsorption is the problem.
Diagnosis of fructose intolerance can be confirmed by challenge with fructose and measurement of the amount of hydrogen in the breath every fifteen minutes for up to two hours following.
When a sugar is not absorbed, it moves into the large bowel where it is fermented by the resident micro-organisms. A major product of fermentation is hydrogen. The hydrogen produced by fermentation of the sugar then passes from the bowel into circulation, is removed in the lungs, and finally excreted in the breath. This method of testing is often used to diagnose lactose intolerance, but malabsorption of any sugar can be tested in the same way.
The usual manner of testing is to provide a known quantity of glucose, lactose, and fructose individually in water. The patient takes each drink separately, and the amount of hydrogen in the breath after each test drink is measured. A significant increase in breath hydrogen will identify which sugar is not being absorbed.
The problem with this method of testing for fructose intolerance, however, is that if an excessive quantity of fructose is consumed, everyone will experience some degree of malabsorption, and will develop loose stool and an increase in breath hydrogen. J.M.Joneja Ph.D., RD. Vickerstaff Health Services Inc 2005 Usually the quantity of fructose used in the test is 2mg/kg body weight, which seems to be the amount tolerated by most people who do not have clinical fructose malabsorption.
Management of Fructose Intolerance
Management of fructose intolerance involves reducing the patient’s intake of foods that contain fructose. A fructose-free diet inevitably means limiting the consumption of fruit, especially those with a high fructose:glucose ratio. Table 1 provides information on the levels of natural fructose and glucose in common foods.
Since fruit is an important source of vitamin C, supplementary vitamin C should be recommended on a low-fruit diet.
Fructose is sweeter than sucrose, and much sweeter than glucose. Hence, fructose is sometimes added to “reduced calorie” foods to increase the sweet taste, without the extra calories of sucrose that would be required to give the same amount of sweetness. Fructose is often used in foods recommended for diabetics to provide sweetness, while avoiding the insulin-dependent mechanisms required for metabolism of glucose. These additional sources of fructose need to be avoided by people who have a problem with the absorption of fructose.
Inherited Conditions Causing Fructose Intolerance
Although many people, especially children, develop loose stool and diarrhea after consuming a high dose of fructose, there are inherited conditions in which metabolism of fructose is impaired, and which require more careful avoidance of all sources of fructose. These diseases are more accurately described as inborn errors of metabolism, and are quite rare. The most well-known conditions include:
Inheritance is through an autosomal recessive gene and the world-wide incidence of the condition is unknown. The enzyme deficiency leads to the accumulation of certain amino acids, lactic acid, and ketoacids. Symptoms include fasting hypoglycemia, ketosis and acidosis. It can be fatal to new-borns. Infections and other fever-inducing illnesses can trigger episodes throughout life.
Hereditary Fructose Intolerance
The inheritance of hereditary fructose intolerance is through an autosomal recessive gene. The condition is due to a deficiency in the enzyme aldolase B. The disease was first recognized in Switzerland, where the incidence has been estimated to be 1/20,000. The J.M.Joneja Ph.D., RD. Vickerstaff Health Services Inc 2005 condition is first noticed in infancy, usually after the first feeding of fruit juice or fruit. Symptoms include: hypoglycemia, sweating, tremor, confusion, nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping pain, and in extreme cases, convulsions and coma. Prolonged consumption of fructose can lead to degeneration of renal function resulting in cirrhosis
and mental deterioration. Ingestion of more than a very small amount of fructose or sucrose results in symptoms.
Diagnosis can be confirmed by a fall in blood glucose 5 – 40 minutes after giving 250 mg/kg body weight of fructose by intravenous delivery. Liver biopsy shows the absence of the enzyme.
Treatment involves the strict avoidance of dietary fructose, sucrose and sorbitol.
This condition is characterized by a deficiency in fructokinase, which results in excretion of fructose in the urine. It is inherited as an autosomal recessive gene and the incidence has been estimated to be 1/130,000. Since the fructose is excreted in blood and urine there is no effect of excess fructose in the digestive tract, and the condition is usually asymptomatic. Usually no treatment is required, but a false diagnosis of diabetes mellitus might occur due to the high level of fructose in the blood.
Table 1. Fructose and Glucose Content of Fruits and Other Foods
[Reproduced from David TJ.
Food and Food Additive Intolerance in Childhood.
Blackwell Scientific Publications 1993 page 164.
Food Type Fructose Glucose
g/100g edible portion g/100g edible portion
Apple 5.0 1.7
Banana 3.5 4.5
Blackberry 2.9 3.2
Blackcurrant 3.7 2.4
Cherry 7.2 4.7
Date 23.9 24.9
Fig 8.2 9.6
Gooseberry 4.1 4.4
Grape 7.3 8.2
Grapefruit 1.2 2.0
Greengage 4.0 5.5
Lemon 1.4 1.4
Loganberry 1.3 1.9
Melon 1.5 2.1
Mulberry 3.6 4.4
Orange 1.8 2.5
Peach 1.6 1.5
Pear 6.5 2.6
Pineapple 1.4 2.3
Plum 3.4 5.2
Prune 15.9 30.0
Raspberry 2.4 2.3
Redcurrant 1.9 2.3
Strawberry 2.3 2.6
Tomato 1.2 1.6
White currant 2.6 3.0
Potato 0.1 0.1
Honey 40.5 34.2
Royal jelly 11.3 9.8
Molasses 8.0 8.8