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Low-Fructose Diet May Ease Kids’ Abdominal Pain

Cutting Back on Fructose Relieved Symptoms in Children With Fructose Intolerance
By Katrina Woznicki
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

young boy with stomachache

Oct. 18, 2010 -- New research suggests that a low-fructose diet reduces recurrent abdominal pain in children with fructose malabsorption. The condition causes gas, bloating, and cramping because of an inability to properly digest fructose.

Fructose is a sugar found naturally in fruits, honey, and some syrup. It is also used to sweeten many processed foods and drinks. Researchers led by Daniel Lustig, MD, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Mary Bridge Children’s Hospital and Health Center in Tacoma, Wash., studied 245 patients aged 2 to 18 who had unexplained chronic abdominal pain, constipation, gas, bloating, and/or diarrhea. Nearly two-thirds of the group was female and the median age was 11.

The children underwent breath hydrogen tests to determine if they had fructose intolerance. Nearly 54% of the group tested positive for fructose intolerance.

Children who tested positive were put on a low-fructose diet and counseled by a registered dietitian. They were later re-evaluated for pain. Sixty-seven percent of the children who tested positive for fructose intolerance reported resolution of abdominal pain and other symptoms after being on the low-fructose diet. Of note, about 48% of children who tested negative for fructose intolerance also reported resolution of their abdominal pain without a low-fructose diet.

The findings were presented today at American College of Gastroenterology's (ACG) 75th Annual Scientific meeting in San Antonio.

Lustig says fructose intolerance appears to be more common in teenage girls. Fructose intolerance can be mistaken for other gastrointestinal disorders that cause abdominal cramping and pain, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or irritable bowel syndrome.

“With fructose in everything from fruit to pre-packaged products, soft drinks, and honey, it is difficult to avoid so the challenge is finding those foods without fructose and still maintain a healthy nutritional balance," Lustig says. "While there is definitely a subset of patients who respond well to a low-fructose diet, it's challenging for patients who are fructose intolerant to maintain, especially teenagers. But the good news is that over half of patients who are fructose intolerant are able to maintain a low-fructose diet and are able to notice an immediate improvement in their symptoms.”

This study was presented at a medical conference. The findings should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.

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