Can sorbitol cause migraines – or, as we prefer to say here, migraine attacks? To answer this question, let’s first take a look at what sorbitol is and where you find it.
Sorbitol (also called glucitol) is a natural sugar alcohol (polyol) found in various fruits including apples and plums. High quantities are found in some dried fruits, such as raisins, figs and prunes. Calorie per calorie, sorbitol is sweeter than sugar – which is why it is produced commercially as a sugar substitute in many foods.
And it’s in the eating of these “artificial” foods that many people find their intake or sorbitol is far too high.
The sorbitol made in the factory is commonly made from corn syrup.
Sorbitol is commonly found in foods marketed as “lite” or “sugar free”. That would include cake mixes, jams and jellies, meal replacement bars, candies, and whipped toppings.
Sorbitol is very common in sugar free chewing gums. It’s also common in toothpaste and mouthwash.
Sorbitol has a laxative effect, and so it’s often found in medications as well. It’s even found in drugs taken for migraine or headache, such as Advil Migraine.
The biggest complaint when it comes to sorbitol isn’t headaches but gastrointestinal problems. If you eat enough, you can get diarrhea, bloating, and abdominal pain.
This is especially a problem in children, who may chew sugar free gum or eat candy containing sorbitol. Children are much more likely to develop symptoms.
There have been complaints or sorbitol irritating or even causing irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).
Of course now we get into the debate – how much do you need to eat? Are some people more susceptible than others? How serious can these side effects become?
But can sorbitol cause migraine attacks? Migraineurs have reported that attacks have been triggered by eating foods containing sorbitol. We also know that there is a strong connection between migraine and gastrointestinal problems – particularly IBS.
So there is ample reason to suspect a link.
If you have reason to believe that sorbitol is triggering migraine attacks, check labels carefully and eliminate it from your diet. You may be wise to avoid artificial sweeteners altogether. It seems to be much wiser to eat whole foods and unprocessed foods more often, rather than try to “eat better” using foods made in a factory.
Have you had an experience with sorbitol and migraine? Leave a comment!
For more information: A petition requesting better labelling for foods with sorbitol, and Sorbitol in The Sweetener Book