Is high-fructose corn syrup causing your tummy troubles?

Published on Wed Jun 24 08:36:00 UTC 2009
Nicci Micco

Is high-fructose corn syrup causing your tummy troubles?

A little while ago, EatingWell published a short article on high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS): it generated all sorts of comments, questions and controversy among our readers. One of the issues that several readers wondered about was whether HFCS might cause irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) or make it worse. IBS is a condition whose hallmark symptom is recurring gastrointestinal (GI) distress.

So for this fourth installment of our 5-part series on HFCS, we went straight to the experts to find out: Does HFCS irritate the stomach or cause irritable bowel syndrome? Here’s what they told us:

People often confuse HFCS with plain fructose (the main type of natural sugar found in fruits and honey). But high-fructose corn syrup is half fructose and half glucose—just like table sugar is.

Compared to other types of sugars, fructose, in large doses, can cause stomach upset, even in healthy people. That’s even truer in patients with IBS. (What is IBS?) “Fructose empties from the stomach more rapidly than other sugars, and it’s more slowly absorbed [from the GI tract into the blood] than glucose,” Peter Beyer, R.D., an associate professor of dietetics and nutrition at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City told us. A big hit of fructose—such as what you’d get in a giant serving of apple juice—can overwhelm your body’s capacity for absorbing it. Thus, it lingers undigested in your GI tract where it can cause gas, bloating and general GI distress. (Can changing your diet fix your GI issues?)

GI troubles caused by undigested sugars generally aren’t an issue when fructose is combined with glucose, as it is for high-fructose corn syrup and also for table sugar. In a recent study scientists gave healthy people and IBS patients a large dose of fructose and, on a separate occasion, a large dose of HFCS. Both tolerated the HFCS solution better.

There’s no evidence that IBS is caused by sweeteners. (Could gluten be the problem?) But people with IBS are more likely to be sensitive to any type of sugar than other people are. In that regard, HFCS is no worse, Beyer said.

Check back next week for the final installment in our HFCS series: “Is HFCS the same as corn syrup?”

And, in case you missed it: Part 1: Is high-fructose corn syrup making you fat? Part 2: Is high-fructose corn syrup making you hungrier? Part 3: Is high-fructose corn syrup making your kid hyper? Part 5: The real truth: high-fructose corn syrup is not the same as corn syrup

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