Mystery solved. After the woman stopped chewing gum, she was discharged from the hospital, with just one bowel movement per day. A year later, she had regained 15 pounds. It was the same story for the man -- one bowel movement a day and a weight gain of 11 pounds six months after the gum-chewing ended.
How much sorbitol is safe? It's hard to say, Lochs said. "We thought of trying in a group of healthy people to determine the limit in a majority of cases, but this has not been done yet," he said.
It's not a big issue for the majority of European gum-chewers, Lochs said. "If they don't have symptoms, they should not worry," he said. "If they have diarrhea, they should not chew gum for a while so that the cause can be diagnosed."
American gum-chewers who have diarrhea can mention the habit to their physicians, Lashner said. "Certainly, all doctors are aware of this," he said of the sorbitol connection.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says the danger of diarrhea is associated with consumption of more than 50 grams of sorbitol daily.
The Calorie Control Council describes the advantages and disadvantages of sorbitol.
SOURCES: Herbert Lochs, M.D., professor of internal medicine, Humboldt University, Berlin, Germany; Bret Lashner, M.D., professor of medicine, Cleveland Clinic; Jan. 12, 2008, British Medical Journal
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