Functional bowel disease: malabsorption and abdominal distress after ingestion of fructose, sorbitol, and fructose-sorbitol mixtures

Gastroenterology. 1988 Sep;95(3):694-700. doi: 10.1016/s0016-5085(88)80016-7.


Twenty-five patients with functional bowel disease were given fructose, sorbitol, fructose-sorbitol mixtures, and sucrose. The occurrence of malabsorption was evaluated by means of hydrogen breath tests and the gastrointestinal symptoms, if any, were recorded. One patient could not be evaluated because of lack of H2 production. Based on a cut-off level of 10 ppm rise of H2 concentration, malabsorption was apparent in 13 patients, in 7 of which the calculated absorption capacities were below 15 g. In contrast, in patients given 50 g of sucrose, malabsorption could not be detected. Ingestion of fructose caused marked abdominal distress in patients with demonstrable malabsorption. Ingestion of sucrose in these patients gave less pronounced symptoms of abdominal distress. Malabsorption of a 5-g dose of sorbitol could be detected in 8 of 13 patients. Mixtures of 25 g of fructose and 5 g of sorbitol caused significantly increased abdominal distress, and more than additive malabsorption was found in several cases. The present study shows that pronounced gastrointestinal distress may be provoked by malabsorption of small amounts of fructose, sorbitol, and fructose-sorbitol mixtures in patients with functional bowel disease. The findings may have direct influence on the dietary guidance given to a major group of patients with functional bowel disease and may make it possible to define separate entities in this disease complex.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Breath Tests
  • Colonic Diseases, Functional / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Fructose / administration & dosage
  • Fructose / adverse effects*
  • Fructose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Intestinal Absorption*
  • Lactulose / metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Sorbitol / administration & dosage
  • Sorbitol / adverse effects*
  • Sorbitol / metabolism
  • Sucrose / metabolism


  • Fructose
  • Lactulose
  • Sorbitol
  • Sucrose