A sweetener used in sugar-free chewing gum, some toothpastes and thousands of other products could be a severe health risk, doctors warned.
Sorbitol, also known as E 420, can trigger severe weight loss, abdominal pain and diarrhoea.
A report in the British Medical Journal today highlights the cases of patients who lost up to a fifth of their bodyweight. The cause was eventually traced to excess intake of sorbitol - one was eating 14-20 sticks of gum a day.
Dentists recommend chewing sugarfree gum to increase saliva production, which reduces cavities and strengthens teeth. Wrigley, which owns many of the brands sold in the UK, has seen its sales in Europe grow by a third since Sorbitol is also used in sugar-free sweets, some cereals and foods aimed at diabetics.
But gastroenterology experts in Germany say many consumers - and even some doctors - are unaware of the laxative side-effects of sorbitol, which can also hinder the absorption of nutrients into the small intestine.
Professor Herbert Lochs and Dr Juergen Bauditz, from the University of Berlin studied two patients with chronic diarrhoea, abdominal pain and substantial weight loss. They underwent extensive investigation before a detailed analysis of their eating was undertaken. It found both had been consuming large amounts of sugarfree gum and sweets.
The first, a 21-year-old woman, chewed around 15 sticks of gum a day. Her weight plunged by almost 2st to just 6st 6lb.
The second patient, a 46-year-old man, chewed 20 sticks of gum and ate up to 200g of sweets each day. He lost more than 3st in a year.
After they started a sorbitol-free diet, their diarrhoea stopped and they gained weight.
Source - Daily Mail