Studies over the past fifteen years have proven that sorbitol can cause gastrointestinal symptoms, ranging from mild discomfort to severe diarrhea, when adults consume between 10 and 50 grams of the additive. Children, because of their small size, may be affected by even smaller amounts. Currently, the FDA requires a laxative notice only on the few products that may lead to the consumption of 50 grams or more of sorbitol daily, though some companies voluntarily label additional products.
“The FDA should require a better label notice on sorbitol-containing products,” said Michael F. Jacobson, Ph.D., executive director of CSPI. “The FDA has known for years that sorbitol can cause severe diarrhea. It’s high time that the Agency required a strong label notice on all products that might cause problems.”
“Since even small amounts of sorbitol can cause gastrointestinal symptoms it is important for the FDA to inform the public of this potential problem,” said Dr. Jeffrey S. Hyams, Head, Department of Digestive Diseases and Nutrition, Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, and Professor of Pediatrics, Connecticut University School of Medicine. “I know of people who have undergone extensive medical testing for abdominal pain and diarrhea when the problem was simply that they were ingesting excessive amounts of sorbitol.” Dr. Hyams conducted a clinical study in which five of seven adults experienced gastrointestinal symptoms after ingesting 10 grams of sorbitol.
Some products that contain more than 10 grams of sorbitol or similar sugar substitute per serving include: Brach’s Star Brites Fruity Candies, Life Savers Delites Hard Candy; Cumberland Packing Corp.’s Sweet ‘N Low Sugar Free, Low Fat Cake Mixes; Frutay Peppermint Drops; Cary’s Maple Syrup; Allen Wertz Simply Sugar Free Chocolate & Vanilla Caramels, Fruit Taffy Whips, and Coffee Toffee.
“With Halloween coming up, people should be concerned about well-meaning families giving candy to children that could end up giving them severe diarrhea,” said Dr. Ray Breitenbach. Dr. Breitenbach is a practicing family physician and retired United States Air Force Lt. Colonel Flight Surgeon who has written about the risks of eating sorbitol-containing candy.
CSPI has petitioned the FDA to require foods containing one or more grams per serving of sorbitol or other sugar alcohol, such as mannitol, to carry a more informative notice. CSPI’s petition recommends that labels state: “NOTICE: This product contains sorbitol, which may cause diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain. Not suitable for consumption by children. To protect yourself, start by eating no more than one serving at a time.”