Sugar is in many of the foods you eat on a daily basis. It occurs naturally in foods like fruit and milk, and is added to many processed foods to enhance flavor. Many condiments, desserts, sodas, fruit juices, yogurts, and “healthy” cereals are full of added sugar. Although most of you are aware of the negative health effects of consuming too much sugar, many of you probably are not aware that some people cannot properly digest sucrose, also known as white table sugar.
Like lactose intolerance, which is the inability to digest the sugar in milk, Sugar Intolerance from Congenital Sucrase Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID) is a condition in which you lack a functional form of the enzyme needed to digest sucrose. When you lack a functional form of this enzyme, it may be natural to think that you might have an allergy to sugar.
However, significant differences exist between a food allergy and a food intolerance. Understanding those differences along with the facts around sugar intolerance may help you make a better determination of what’s happening in your body and why.
Oftentimes, the terms “food allergy” and “food intolerance” are used interchangeably, but they are not at all the same. The primary difference between having a food allergy and a food intolerance is how the body responds after ingesting the food.
Food allergies can be life threatening. The onset of symptoms generally occurs soon after the allergen is ingested. The body’s immune system falsely recognizes protein in the food as a foreign invader and releases antibodies to fight the unwanted food, or allergen. An allergic reaction can range from mild itchiness and rash to a severe form of an allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis can involve swelling of the throat, making it difficult to breath. Severe allergic reactions can be serious and may require emergency medical attention.
On the other hand, a food intolerance manifests differently in the body. While it may also cause severe symptoms, a food intolerance is generally localized in the gastrointestinal tract and can last for a few hours to several days. Symptoms may appear to be nonspecific and range from gas and stomach discomfort to vomiting and diarrhea.
Another name for Sugar Intolerance is “Sucrose Intolerance.” With Sucrose Intolerance caused by CSID symptoms develop after eating a food containing sugar when the body lacks the function of the enzyme sucrase that breaks down sucrose in the digestive tract. Sucrose is the chemical name for white table sugar. Scientifically, sucrose is a disaccharide, meaning it is made up of two molecules: one glucose molecule and one fructose molecule.
Without the help of this enzyme, sucrose remains in its undigested and unabsorbed form. Because it is not absorbed, sucrose travels on to the colon where it is broken down by fermentation, causing gas to develop. The result of this gas buildup is uncomfortable and can lead to painful abdominal symptoms such as bloating, gas, diarrhea, vomiting, and sometimes an urgent need to use the restroom.
CSID may affect your quality of life. In addition, it is an invisible illness, so many people have no idea what those of you who have CSID have to go through. Those of you born with CSID have to manage your lives carefully; and many activities, like eating out or traveling, take a lot of planning.
Because sucrose is a carbohydrate, and not a protein, a sugar allergy cannot exist. However, sugar intolerance is a very real thing; awareness about the condition is important. The lack of awareness in the general population and many in the medical community may leave patients and their families feeling isolated and misunderstood.
Take the quiz at www.sucroseintolerance.com to help you decide if you should talk to your doctor about CSID. If you think you have CSID, get more information about the disease and download a discussion guide to take with you to your doctor. Arm yourself with facts about CSID to advocate for yourself or a loved one experiencing these symptoms.
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