Sorbitol is an aldehyde form of sugar that is very slowly metabolized by the human body which is normally produced as part of the combustion processes of glucose but can also be obtained in significantly high amounts from corn syrup. This article will focus on the introduction of uses and dangers of sorbitol.
Uses of Sorbitol
Sorbitol is used commercially in a number of food products and other industrial products.
Sorbitol metabolism supply only 2.6 kilocalories (= 11 kilojoules) energy as opposed to glucose or other monosaccharides that releases kilocalories (= 17 kilojoules) of energy, making it an ideal adjuvant or substitute to table sugar. It is used in sugar-free gums, candies, diet- beverages, ice-creams and other foods.
When used orally or as enema, sorbitol can be used as a mild laxative due to its slow metabolism and water attracting nature. Excessive consumption of sorbitol rich foods can lead to gastrointestinal upset; however, if used properly with the recommendation of a healthcare provider, sorbitol can be used as a safe laxative in elderly.
Health-care and Cosmetic Products
- Intake of sugar-free gums (or sorbitol gums) can lead to substantial weight loss (if the intake of sorbitol exceeds 20 g per day)
- Besides tooth- pastes and mouthwash, sorbitol serves as an excellent agent for gels.
- When used with Kayexalate, it can extract excessive potassium from the body by exchanging sodium for potassium.
- Sorbitol is used in surgical units for irrigation of urinary tract after bladder and prostrate surgeries.
- A variety of experiments that utilized potassium nitrate with sorbitol has led to the conclusion that the mixture can be used as amateur rocket fuel.
- Due to its chemical properties, it can be used as potential bio-fuel.
- The humectant of cigarettes is also made up of sorbitol.
- Sorbitol also has a very strong presence in the microbiological diagnostic industry. It is used in the diagnosis of E-Coli infection in a number of bacterial cultures due to sorbitol fermenting properties of most of the E-Coli strains.
Dangers of Sorbitol
It has to be kept in mind that due to different chemical structure and other metabolic characteristics, high serum levels of sorbitol may be toxic for the body and should therefore be avoided. Best way to avoid sorbitol is to limit your intake of commercial foods.
It has been observed that excessive intake of sorbitol can lead to following side effects:
- Abdominal pain, bloating and pain that may deteriorate to diarrhea and cramping.
- If not managed properly, black tarry stools are also reported that may require medical attention.
- Long term sorbitol consumption can interfere with absorption of essential vitamins like B12
- Moderate risk of developing dehydration, allergic reaction, dryness of mouth and electrolyte imbalance is reported in literature.
- In rare situation, high intake or serum concentration of sorbitol can lead to rectal bleeding, gastric or anal irritation, irritability and dizziness
- In extremely rare cases, seizure activity (if you are allergic to sorbitol), cardiac dysfunction, rhythm abnormalities and pulmonary disorders can also occur with sorbitol intake.
- Alterations in the normal urinary frequency.
- Changes in the physical form of the body (marked by sudden weight loss or edematous changes of face and body)
Caution in the overall consumption of sorbitol is needed for a variety of reasons.
- Sorbitol is not a natural substrate for cells and thus human body lacks enzyme for steady metabolism of sorbitol. Due to impaired metabolism individuals can also develop long term digestive and metabolic complications in addition to temporary digestive ailments.
- If you are pregnant or nursing, make sure to speak to your healthcare provider before consuming sorbitol.
- If you have fructose intolerance or other metabolic issues due to inherited enzyme deficiencies, caution must be maintained in consuming sorbitol .
- In case of a positive family history of diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance testing, intake of sorbitol should be minimized.
- In full blown diabetes, intake of sorbitol can lead to a variety of complications due to over-activity of aldose reductase that leads to toxic serum levels of sorbitol.
- High intake of sorbitol can also lead to cataract due to fluid accumulating nature of sorbitol