What is sucrose intolerance and its effects on digestion?

Sucrose is ordinary sugar, white sugar or table sugar. This rapidly absorbed sugar, due to the short length of its molecule, results from the combination of two monosaccharides, which are minor components within the group of carbohydrates, and they are a molecule of glucose and another of fructose. Containing two molecules of saccharides or sugars, sucrose is a disaccharide.

Sucrose intolerance consists of an alteration at the digestive level, specifically in the intestinal area, due to the absence or scarce presence of the enzyme or protein responsible for separating the two molecules of sucrose, which is called ‘sucrose’ or ‘sucrase’. Without the action of this enzyme, sucrose cannot be digested and therefore absorbed. Unable to cross the intestine wall, the sucrose molecules continue their way through the large intestine until they are eliminated through the anus.

It is a digestive pathology that has little to do with food allergy since there is no immunological involvement, one of the defining characteristics of allergic reactions.

Sometimes, a total absence of sucrase can be found in those affected so that minimal amounts of sucrose can trigger intolerance symptoms. Still, some people contain minute quantities of the enzyme, so they tolerate specific minor amounts of sucrose that can be digested. In these cases, it is crucial to discover the threshold limit of the amount of sucrose that these people can take until the enzyme levels are saturated. When this level is exceeded, it is likely that the amount of sucrose that remains undigested causes the symptoms.

In many cases, sucrose intolerance is associated with a deficiency of other digestive enzymes that digest other sugars such as lactose, milk sugar, fructose, and fruit sugar. In these cases, the alteration affects the sugars that cannot be digested generally due to enzyme deficiency.

Causes and symptoms of sucrose intolerance

The cause of sucrose intolerance is the deficiency of the enzyme that collaborates in the digestion of sugar: sucrase, sucrase or invertase. This deficiency has a genetic origin and is present from birth. On some occasions, and when there is already a certain predisposition, this sucrase deficiency may go unnoticed until ages when sucrose consumption is higher. For infants, the time sugar-addicted fruits or infant formulas are introduced is often when symptoms occur, and intolerance is discovered.

Also, some children can tolerate more significant amounts of sucrose over the years, and what begins as a severe digestion problem can lead to minor alterations.

Symptoms and complications of sucrose intolerance

The symptoms of sucrose intolerance are mainly of the gastric or intestinal type with abdominal pain, gastric distension, malaise or diarrheal processes. If the problem is not treated and symptoms continue more or less chronically, nutritional status may be affected by micronutrient loss due to diarrhoea.

Similarly, dehydration could also be triggered if fluid losses are not compensated. This process could lead to a delay in the growth and development of children, as well as generalised fatigue with the presence of anaemia or various nutritional deficiencies in adults.

Treatment of sucrose intolerance

The treatment of sucrose intolerance is based on diet control, avoiding foods containing sucrose to prevent its accumulation without digesting it in the intestine. However, this control should be more exhaustive the lower the sucrose tolerance threshold that the person has. This is an important job since sucrose is not only found in table sugar as such. However, sucrose in food is highly diversified since it is used in many products, which is why it requires constant vigilance.

Foods with sucrose to avoid

Food groups are some of the ones with the highest sucrose content.

  • Some fruits contain not insignificant amounts of sucrose, such as mango, pineapple, peach, apricot, nectarine, and fig, and some dried fruits like dates.
  • Among the vegetables, carrot, beet, cabbage and tomato are some of the richest in this disaccharide.
  • Legumes: Peas contain quite a bit of sucrose.
  • Sugary drinks: carbonated and sugary commercial soft drinks, fruit juices with added sugar.
  • Sweetened dairy: condensed milk, sweetened yoghurt and other sweet dairy desserts.
  • Pastries, pastries, pastries, cookies.
  • Chocolate with added sugar, jam, preserves, ice cream, and caramel.
  • Sweets, sweets, various sweets.
  • Sweet corn, sugary cereals.

After the diagnosis of sucrose intolerance, the affected person should test their tolerance to this disaccharide over the following weeks. Initially, take minimal amounts of sucrose contained in food and, if no symptoms appear, gradually and gently increase intake. If digestive symptoms appear, reduce the sucrose in the diet until the situation normalises.

Likewise, it is convenient to test the tolerance repeatedly since it can be modified over time. 

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