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Too Much Sugar-Free Gum Linked to Severe Weight Loss
Date:1/10/2008

2 cases in Germany cite diarrhea due to the sweetener sorbitol

THURSDAY, Jan. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Chewing too much sugar-free gum containing the artificial sweetener sorbitol can cause diarrhea leading to potentially dangerous weight loss, German physicians report.

The cases of a 21-year-old woman who suffered diarrhea that caused her to lose about 24 pounds and a 46-year-man who lost approximately 46 pounds because of diarrhea were mysteries until the doctors asked about their chewing habits.

Both were found to be consuming a lot of sorbitol, primarily from chewing gum, said Dr. Herbert Lochs, professor of internal medicine at Humboldt University in Berlin, and one author of the report.

The answer solved the mystery, since heavy consumption of sorbitol has long been associated with a risk of diarrhea, Lochs said.

"There have been case reports earlier, as far back as the 1980s," he said. "These were people who did not have malabsorbtion and malnutrition."

The risk is not as great for consumers in the United States, said Dr. Bret Lashner, a gastroenterologist who is professor of medicine at the Cleveland Clinic, since sorbitol is rarely used in chewing gum here. The preferred artificial sweetener for chewing gum and candy here is aspartame, sold as NutraSweet, Lashner said.

"NutraSweet and saccharin are safe," he said. "Sorbitol is not safe. People should look at the labels to see if they are getting something with sorbitol."

The new findings are published in the Jan. 12 issue of the British Medical Journal.

The two people seen by Lochs and Dr. Juergen Bauditz, a gastroenterologist at the University of Berlin, were consuming sorbitol-containing chewing gum with gusto -- 15 to 20 sticks a day, containing up to 20 grams of the sweetener, for the woman, and 20 sticks of gum and up to 200 grams a day of artificially sweetened candy for the man.

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