Disaccharide digestion: clinical and molecular aspects

Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2006 Mar;4(3):276-87. doi: 10.1016/j.cgh.2005.12.023.


Sugars normally are absorbed in the small intestine. When carbohydrates are malabsorbed, the osmotic load produced by the high amount of low molecular weight sugars and partially digested starches in the small intestine can cause symptoms of intestinal distention, rapid peristalsis, and diarrhea. Colonic bacteria normally metabolize proximally malabsorbed dietary carbohydrate through fermentation to small fatty acids and gases (ie, hydrogen, methane, and carbon dioxide). When present in large amounts, the malabsorbed sugars and starches can be excreted in the stool. Sugar intolerance is the presence of abdominal symptoms related to the proximal or distal malabsorption of dietary carbohydrates. The symptoms consist of meal-related abdominal cramps and distention, increased flatulence, borborygmus, and diarrhea. Infants and young children with carbohydrate malabsorption show more intense symptoms than adults; the passage of undigested carbohydrates through the colon is more rapid and is associated with detectable carbohydrates in copious watery acid stools. Dehydration often follows feeding of the offending sugar. In this review we present the clinical and current molecular aspects of disaccharidase digestion.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Digestion / genetics*
  • Digestion / physiology*
  • Disaccharidases / deficiency*
  • Disaccharidases / genetics
  • Disaccharides / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / genetics*
  • Malabsorption Syndromes / metabolism*
  • Mutation / genetics


  • Disaccharides
  • Disaccharidases