Ask a Healer Food Additives Series
What is Sorbitol?
by N J Howell
Products containing sorbitol
Update on Sorbitol and diabetes
This started out as a series on exposing hidden msg in foods. However, I soon realized that many of the foods with msg also had food additives that made reactions even worse. Sorbitol is one of those and I've added it to the msg info for others who may be sensitive. If you use Splenda, you are consuming sorbitol as well as chlorine.
If you don't read labels, you may well be consuming sorbitol in many of the foods you eat and drink. If you are additionally having unexplained health complaints, you may be allergic to this food additive.
Sorbitol is a form of sugar alcohol, derived from a variety of natural sources including corn, seaweed or fruit. As such, it is called a natural sweetener. Though approved for use as a food additive by the FDA, consumers have reported a wide range of side effects and allergic reactions to sorbitol. I am certainly among that number.
My Personal Experience with Sorbitol:
The major symptoms I experience, after consuming anything with sorbitol (even more than one stick or gum or a single breath mint containing it) are terribly painful gas and bloating and chest tightness which seems to emanate from the back more than the front, in the heart area. I have similar reactions with anything containing xylitol, malitol or any other food additive ending in "tol".
The intestinal distress I have is so acute and such sudden onset that, as soon as it happened the first time, I immediately began to check for what could have caused it. The first time, I couldn't be sure because I had eaten out in a restaurant. Now that I know the ingredient causing the trouble is sorbitol, I also know that "sugarfree" deserts were most likely the culprit in that first occurence. Over time, I realized that each time the symptoms recurred, I would have recently eaten something that contained sorbitol.
A few times, when I had the reaction, I doubted myself because I couldn't find a food that I had eaten to explain the symptoms. Then, I started reading labels on my homeopathic pellets and other health supplements. Yep, sorbitol. I avoid it like the plague now.
The Main Side Effects or Allergic Reactions I Experienced from Sorbitol Include:
* Low Blood Pressure - I normally have blood pressure on the low side already. Reading about this reaction, I feel certain there is at least the potential that certain occasions where my blood pressure suddenly got dangerously low might have been sorbitol-related as well. I'll watch for that in the future. I always check labels now but eating out ... you never know for sure unless you have a tedious conversation with waitress, cook, manager, etc.
* Pulmonary Congestion - I feel this is the most dangerous symptom and one that I have when I consume sorbitol. I would say it mimics angina in my case because the pain was such that I considered going to an emergency room.
* Electrolyte imbalances - Had this happen too but didn't associate with the sorbitol til I read the info on the Live Strong website. I would experience severe charlie horses, for example, along with the other symptoms. At first, I didn't see how they could be related. Now, I know.
* Blood Sugar Level Imbalances - Splenda, or other products containing sorbitol, apparently send a message to the body that the body should prepare for large doses of sugar coming. This can cause cravings for carbs and sweets.
A partial list of additionally reported side effects or allergic reactions include edema, hives or rashes, dehydration, diahrrea, dizziness, vomiting, chest pain, tachycardia, swelling of the hands, swelling of the mouth or face, cramps, gas, bloating, vitamin b12 deficiency (if taken longterm), etc.
Is Sorbitol Safe? For me, the answer is a resounding no. My biggest concern is that folks are eating foods with sorbitol or taking supplements to which sorbitol has been added, and having reactions that they may attribute to something else. Had I not realized the onset of symptoms were directly related to consumption of sorbitol-containing products in my case, I may have gone to the emergency room and experienced undue stress over a condition that was non-medical.On the other hand, if I had continued eating sorbitol-containing foods, never connecting the dots, I may well have found myself in an emergency room for real because of a sorbitol-induced condition.
How to avoid sorbitol: At this point, the best way is to read every label, no matter what the type of product. When eating out, there's really no easy way to know but I avoid sugarfree deserts in restaurants. Please bookmark the resource I gave at the beginning, for a list of products containing sorbitol.
Health Care Disclaimer: Healthy options for sweetening your foods include stevia or organic agave nectar (careful, some labeled agave are actually just high fructose corn syrup). There may be other causes of gas and bloating and this information is not intended to replace medical help if you have this issue. The FDA still maintains that consumption of sorbitol does not present a health threat. Do your homework and see what you think.