Sugar-Free Gum Can Cause Diarrhea—Here's How

It might be time to cut back if you prefer to chew sugar-free gum.

There are many reasons why you may want to chew on some sugar-free gum. But you may be wondering how much sugar-free gum is too much gum to chew—especially since ingredients typically added to these types of gum may lead to diarrhea, according to the American College of Gastroenterology. Here's what you need to know.

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Sugar-Free Gum and Diarrhea

Most sugar-free gums contain sugar alcohols, which are sweeteners found naturally in some fruits or produced commercially as artificial sweeteners, according to a January 2021 review in the Journal of Food and Drug Analysis. Sugar alcohols are used in sugar-free foods and include sweeteners such as xylitol, mannitol, and sorbitol.

Sorbitol is a usual ingredient found in sugar-free gum. A February 2022 study published in the Journal of Microbiology, Biotechnology and Food Sciences noted a relationship between sorbitol and digestive issues, where sorbitol can be responsible for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—a digestive condition where diarrhea is a common symptom.

The authors of a 2019 case study published in The College of Family Physicians of Canada noted that research has shown that 20 grams of sorbitol per day could cause diarrhea.

The authors pointed out that, for example, a stick of Trident gum typically contains around 1.25 grams of sorbitol, and there are usually 16 to 18 sticks per pack, equating to 20 to 22.5 grams of sorbitol. So, chewing more than one pack of sugar-free gum a day could lead to issues.

What Kinds of Issues Can Sorbitol Cause?

"Sorbitol can work as a laxative and cause bloating and diarrhea," said Roshini Rajapaksa, MD (who goes by Dr. Raj), Health's medical editor and gastroenterologist at New York University's Langone Medical Center.

A May 2021 study in Digestive Diseases indicated that sorbitol could specifically cause osmotic diarrhea—a type that can only be alleviated with fasting, according to the National Library of Medicine.

Still, Dr. Raj said that sorbitol affects everyone differently. "Some people are more sensitive to it than others," Dr. Raj added. "It's not harmful if you're not experiencing any issues."

Digestive problems aside, the sweetener does not cause any long-term damage to the intestines, Dr. Raj said. Sorbitol-related digestive issues are typically resolved when someone stops consuming the ingredient.

Further, if you only swallow a stick of gum every once in a while, it's not a big concern: "It should pass around the same time as other foods, in one to three days," Dr. Raj said.

What To Do if Sorbitol Causes Digestive Issues

In addition to sugarless gum, sorbitol can be found in diet drinks, dried fruit, and sugarless candy. Whenever someone experiences unexplained gas, bloating, cramps, or diarrhea, Dr. Raj suggested cutting off sorbitol to see if it makes a difference.

And, Dr. Raj said, people who are chronically bloated should avoid chewing gum altogether because it causes them to swallow extra air. "There can be a sort of double-whammy effect if you're chewing gum and it has sorbitol in it, so people who already have these issues should not be chewing gum," Dr. Raj explained.

If you find that avoiding sugar-free gum or other foods with sorbitol is not solving your digestive issues, it may be time to see your healthcare provider for medical advice to determine which treatment options might be available.

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