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Sugar Alcohols – what are these?


Firstly, despite their name they are not alcoholic. Sugar alcohols are often used as lower calorie options to standard sugar as they contribute lesser calories than that of standard sugar. If you look at the ingredient list of a diet soft drink or sugar free gum, chances are you will see at least one of the sugar alcohols. Some common ones are Erythritol, Maltitol, Mannitol, Sorbitol and Xylitol.  Something you may also notice on food packets which contain sorbitol and mannitol is a warning of their laxative effect in high dosage.

So this brings us to why sugar alcohol’s are relevant to breath testing. Here at Stream Diagnostics we test for both Sorbitol and Mannitol malabsorption. These sugar alcohols are also known as polyols and are naturally occurring sugar alcohols which are found in a range of fruit and vegetables. Polyols also make up the P in the FODMAP acronym.

When mannitol and sorbitol are ingested they are slowly absorbed while they travel along the small intestine, drawing water into the gut. If they are left unabsorbed by the time that they reach the large intestine, symptoms can arise. The sugar alcohols can cause an osmotic effect in the gut causing the movement of water across the bowel which can alter bowel habits. The sugar alcohols can also be fermented by the bacteria living in the intestine and this in turn produces gas and can contribute to bloating & pain. So what does this all mean? Well here at Stream Diagnostics we test the amount of Hydrogen and Methane produced by the gut bacteria when they ferment a sugar/sugar alcohol. Therefore, through this testing, sorbitol and mannitol malabsorption may be determined. If you want to hear more about our tests and find out if they are right for you, give us a call today!