Tummy Troubles

In my part time profession as a health technician, I test patients for dietary intolerances. Unfortunately I am considered as one of the UNLUCKY ones that has lactose, fructose, sucrose and sorbitol intolerance (so sad, I know). Having had years of experience with dietary restrictions and trial and error with foods, I have become a self-proclaimed expert in providing dietary advice for patients who get the bad (or good) news from me if they are intolerant to a certain sugar.

Breathing into a sample bag (it's me!!!)

For those of you interested, here’s how the test works. Patients are required to;

  • Restrict their diet the day before the test
  • Turn up at 9am (8:30 for early birds like me)
  • Breathe into a machine that detects hydrogen levels in the breath in parts per million (ppm)
  • Give them a drink (eg. lactose solution for a lactose test)
  • Breathe into a machine every 30 mins for 3 hours to monitor breath hydrogen levels

Following the test, we can generally give a good indication of whether the patient is intolerant or not depending on the hydrogen levels of the patient. If the patient’s hydrogen levels rise 20 ppm above the baseline reading, this suggests an overactivity of bacteria in the bowels – which is consistent with malabsorption.

The question I pose is, WHY!? Why have some of us evolved to absorb certain sugars over others?

An astonishing 1 in 3 people have fructose malabsorption. Fructose can be found in foods such as honey, tree and vine fruits, berries and most root vegetables. Most importantly it has been developed from sugar cane, sugar beets and corn (high fructose corn syrup) as a cheap commercial sweetener and additive to soft drinks and processed foods.

I came across a theory which provided an explanation for the increasing prevalence of fructose malabsorption in our western society. It was suggested that the high prevalence of fructose as a sweetener and additive to pre-packaged foods leads to over-consumption of fructose, resulting in the body’s inability to deal with it. Not only does excess consumption of pre-packaged foods contribute to increased levels of dietary intolerances, it can also contribute to the ever increasing incidences of type-2 diabetes.

So the next time you feel bloated or in pain after eating an apple or drinking a bottle of coke, chances are you could have fructose malabsorption, making supermarket foods in your diet a thing of the past.

Healthy food that not all of us can digest. Licenced by Google creative commons.
Yummy foods - packed with additives. Licensed by Google creative commons.

7 Responses to “Tummy Troubles”

  1. Sila says:

    Thanks Natalia. Thats a good job on your part. I definitely feel more sensitive to fructose containing foods now that I have weaned them off my diet. On another note, only today I stopped drinking warm soy milk (i.e. in coffee) as it’s also loaded with fructose and more importantly oestrogen!

  2. Natalia Chodelski says:

    A great post! I avoid sugar and fructose because i know they are also not good for us in large quantities. I’m not intolerant though so i’d like to stay that way.

  3. Samantha Walker says:

    Thanks Sila!

  4. Sila says:

    Hey Samantha,

    I work for a company called Gastrolab, which provides the largest breath testing service in the country. If you head to their website, they have a detailed description of what the test involves – including online referrals that you can download.

    You do not need a referral if you know which test you want to have done, just call and they’ll book it!. Having said that, it is good to get the idea of a GP if you’re not sure which sugars you should be tested for.

    Good luck 🙂

  5. Samantha Walker says:

    Hi Sila,

    Great post. I’ve been having some troubles with my diet and am beginning to think the answer may be fructose malabsorption. What I am wondering is, do you need a referral from a doctor to get tested and where is a reputable place to go? Thanks so much!

  6. Sila says:

    Hi Maggie,

    I definitely agree that increased awareness means people now know it can be tested for. It also offers a relatively simple explanation for the overly diagnosed IBS.

    I just wonder about the evolution of fructose intolerance in the first place. You would think that as humans were evolving, eating fruit and vegetables in the wild wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Why would we evolve to be unable to digest these foods? Fruits and veg are meant to be good for us!

  7. Maggie says:

    I, too, have fructose malabsorption. I think it is possible for the increase to be prepackaged foods, but I think a lot of cases have just gone undiagnosed in the past. People don’t even know what gastroenterologists are (well, some people I know, at least). I think they just lived with symptoms. I mean, all of the food sensitivities are on the rise. But processed food could definitely be part of the problem.