Local doctor weighs in on the ‘Gummy Bear Cleanse’

02/09/2014 11:09 AM |

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The next time you get a hankering for a handful of sweet-tasting Haribo gummy bears, be sure to check the label. If you eat the sugar-free version , you might get more than you bargained for.

Some call it “The Gummy Bear Cleanse.” 

Carrie Miller

Carrie Miller

It seems these unpredictable little bears pack the power of the most potent laxative available, according to some consumer reviews on amazon.com — a not-so-fun fact many have discovered only after it was far too late.

An ingredient known as Lycasin is the culprit. Lycasin is a registered trade name for a sugar substitute known as maltitol, commonly used in sugar-free candies, gum and sweets for diabetics.

In the U.S., products containing Lycasin do not carry a warning as they do in some other countries, said Dr. Dhiren Mehta, a gastroenterologist associated with both Peconic Bay Medical Center and Eastern Long Island Hospital.

“It doesn’t get absorbed as much by the gastrointestinal system [as compared to regular sugar], because humans do not have the enzyme to break it down completely,” Dr. Mehta said.

While this is advantageous for diabetics, enabling them to satisfy a sweet tooth without spiking their sugar levels, the effects of Lycasin can be “explosive” if more than 100 milligrams is consumed at one time. In terms of gummies, the “nuclear crisis,” as some describe it, seems to happen after about a dozen bears. “Don’t eat more than 15 in a sitting unless you are trying to power wash your intestines,” one commenter warned in an online review.

“If you consume more than 100 milligrams [of the sweetener] it will cause a laxative effect,” Dr. Mehta confirmed.

Because the sugar doesn’t get absorbed, it has an osmotic effect, meaning it draws water from the body into the intestines , causing the laxative effect, he said.

This is not particularly dangerous unless someone is at risk of dehydration, he said, but the unexpected reaction can be more than inconvenient for the unaware snacker.

“Many times people pick up the gummies or candies while traveling, not knowing the exasperating effect,” Dr. Mehta said. “If you’re traveling somewhere, and you don’t have easy access to a bathroom, it could be a problem.”

If you’re up for the challenge, Amazon sells an appropriately sized five-pound bag of the gummies, but you might have to wait a bit — they’re currently sold out.

Got a health question or column idea? Email Carrie Miller at cmiller@timesreview.com. Follow her on twitter @carriemiller01.