Can Sorbitol cause Migraines?

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 - a migraine trigger?

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

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  • Dee Jan 7, 2014

    I suffered from migraines for years. I would get them as a result of sinus headaches mainly, but I would also get them randomly and I couldn’t identify any specific triggers. I had a habit of keeping Special K protein bars handy at work so that if I had to miss a lunch I would eat a protein bar. My migraines increased no matter what I did. Wile off from work recuperating from surgery, I had no protein bars for 4 weeks, did not have any migraines either. Had my first protein bar again, then wham, a massive migraine. Sorbital is the culprit I suspect. If I avoid that ingredient, no migraines.

  • Isobel Feb 5, 2014

    Sorbitol undoubtly gives me a migraine. I have a bad head for 3 days which painkillers will not touch. A certain well known high street producer of chocolate and sweets contains sorbitol. I think, as sorbitol is known to cause problems, it should, by law, be required by anyone who includes it in their products to have a prominent warning.

  • Stephanie Aug 19, 2014

    I have had a history of chronic migraine for which I need daily medication to manage. Sorbitol is a major trigger for me even now that I’m well managed on an anti- seizure medicine.

  • jenny Aug 20, 2014

    Sorbitol definitely gives me migraine attacks. First noticed many years ago when eating Frosted Shredded wheat – had a migraine every day. Sorbitol also found in certain well-know chocolates – which explained the headaches each Mothers’ Day! I now check the ingredients on pre-packed biscuits, chocolate and cereals.

  • Amber Sep 11, 2014

    I have been a migraine sufferer my whole life (since I was a baby-abdominal- now 32 yrs)
    Aspartame is a HUGE trigger for me and I have only recently started to discover other areas where triggers lay.. Sorbitol is one of them. Also be sure to check OTC meds for adults and peds!!! Aspartame and Sorbitol is in medications also! A great website to check before you buy is dailymed.nlm.nih.gov

  • Walter White Oct 28, 2014

    I tried to quit smoking using Nicorette. The first day I had gastric distress and developed a migraine(I hadn’t had a migraine in years). At first I thought the issue may have been due to some peripheral withdrawal from cigarettes, but finally realized it was the artificial sweetener causing the problems.
    Unfortunately, the patch alone doesn’t work, since I have severe withdrawal from cigarettes – including major depression, insomnia, periods of shakiness, panic and confusion. Even with miniscule decreases of nicotine intake. Too bad they don’t make Nicorette with plain old sugar.

  • Elle Feb 3, 2015

    I am trying to figure out what is causing my migraines to trigger. I stopped all my supplements and they are still coming. Now I am wondering if it’s the cherry juice I drink to help relieve inflammation and help me sleep. Cherry juice is naturally high in sorbitol. It does make me gassy. But that doesn’t bother me because I struggle with constipation and so it helps.

  • Xenophon Jul 29, 2015

    If you have a problem with sorbitol, you may want to watch for mannitol as well. They are stereoisomers of each other. I would suspect that they might cause the same physiological effects. My wife is sensitive to sorbitol and may have issues with mannitol as well. Companies are putting more and more of this stuff into everything.

  • Albert Nov 28, 2015

    Tic Tac candies trigger always migraine, to me. I was told it is the sorbitol in them.

  • Krista Apr 28, 2016

    The first time I noticed it was something I was eating that caused my migraines was with the special K bars mentioned above. I noticed I was having them when I chewed gum or ate mints as well. The common in all of these is SORBITOL.

  • Jan S. Jan 15, 2017

    Sorbitol has been giving me migraines since I first discovered it in a new European skin care line at Whole Foods back around 1997. I couldn’t figure out why I was getting migraine every day. I skipped the skincare accidentally one day and didn’t have a migraine. Used it again and did. Sorbitol is in everything. Used to be in skincare (even Jergens) but now it’s less so. Still in all regular toothpaste (a few health food store brands don’t have it, it’s in all gums and mints and lifesavers. It’s now in more and more medications. I just discovered it in Mylanta I bought. It’s also in Gaviscon–I just looked it up online. It’s in more and more prescription drugs too. I have to now have doctors look. I was just at urgent care for stomach virus (I do not have IBD) and the anti nausea injection they were going to give to me had it in a sorbitol suspension. People need to shout out about this! I first got migraines in the late 70s only as a reaction to strawberries. Now I have to also check everything to make sure there’s no sorbitol.

  • Michelle Apr 6, 2017

    I just started using Biotene for dry mouth. I didn’t realise it had sorbitol in it. The next day after using it I came down with the worst headache that I have had in years. I tried all my usual sinus and extra strength aspirin and nothing worked. I had another yesterday afternoon and not long after a sick headache started again. It had eased off during the afternoon but got worse after I went to bed. I have been up all night. I know sorbitol in chewing cone has caused headaches before but no to this extent. So I’m not going to use the Biotene for a few days and see if the headache goes away.

  • Mr.Migraines Aug 19, 2017

    I noticed I had migraines whenever I had Ice Breakers.. So I stopped buying them despite their deliciousness. A few adjustments and remedies later I became migraine free.

    Recently, I got a bad headache for a whole evening and woke up the next day with a headache that persisted despite Ibuprofen (which is unusual for me). The only thing that was different about the day is that I had absent-mindedly chewed on a bunch of Velamints from Trader Joe’s. A search on sugar free mint migraines led me here. I had always thought it was the Aspartame in the Ice Breakers. However, Velamints don’t have any Aspartame (which is why I bought them). Top ingredient of Velamints and Ice Breakers? Sorbitol!

  • Kris Sep 10, 2017

    Sorbitol and xylitol give me migranes for sure. They often found in some marshmellows also. I would get a mild headache every morning and then I found that almost all toothpastes have sorbitol in them. Only certain types of Crest have saccharin instead and I am safe. Before I found out about the Crest, I would have to make my own toothpaste to stay headache free.