national sucrose intolerance week

Help spread the word about this rare disease

National Sucrose Intolerance Awareness Week is April 2 through April 8. For those who are unaware of sucrose intolerance, let me paint a picture for you. Imagine you are enjoying an evening out with friends and have one small bite of dessert. About 20 minutes later, you are scrambling to find the nearest restroom and praying there isn’t a line to use the facilities.

Then there was the time you decided to start eating “clean,” so carrot sticks and celery sticks were your go-to snack. But these snacks led to the same result as the bite of dessert: a trip to the restroom with stomach pain, gas, and diarrhea.

Now picture this. To settle your stomach, you always drink a ginger ale, which is loaded with sugar; but for some mysterious reason, it works; and you don’t have the symptoms you experienced before. If these scenarios seem familiar, the cause of your stomach problems may be sucrose intolerance.

How can that be? Aren’t all the sugars in the dessert the carrots, and the ginger ale the same? The answer is a resounding NO. The sugar in carrots and most desserts is table sugar or sucrose. Sucrose is made up of two smaller sugars, glucose and fructose, that must be separated from one another in the small intestine to be absorbed and used as energy. People with sucrose intolerance do not have the enzyme that separates the glucose and fructose, so the intact sucrose passes through the small intestine and into the large intestine where the good bacteria feed on the sugar, produce gas, and draw in excess water which causes diarrhea.

Starches like rice, potato, corn, and flour also can cause unfortunate gastrointestinal symptoms in people with sucrose intolerance because carbohydrates break down and form smaller sugars that have to be separated into simple sugars. If the enzyme that cleaves sucrose is absent, then the same events that happened with table sugar or sucrose happen with starches.

But wait a minute, what about ginger ale? Didn’t we say it is full of sugar too? Yes, it is but the sugar in the ginger ale is usually high-fructose corn syrup, and this sugar doesn’t depend on the same enzyme as sucrose to break it down.

These facts probably have you asking, “How do I know which foods are high in sucrose?” Now is when you must learn to be a diet detective. Reading food ingredient labels is the first line of defense. There are 57 different words for sugar, so a label can be tricky to navigate. Sucrose is also called cane sugar, beet sugar, coconut sugar, molasses, brown sugar, maple syrup, granular sugar, and powdered sugar. Total avoidance of sugar is almost impossible when you consider that sugar is used or is naturally occurring in almost everything we eat.

How do you know if sucrose intolerance is your problem? Several different tests are available to aid in the diagnosis, including a tissue biopsy from the small intestine to measure enzyme activity or a sucrose breath test.

Sucrose intolerance can interfere with the social aspects of life where food is involved, but people with sucrose intolerance can help minimize their symptoms with pharmaceutical therapy and diet modification.

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