Can Sugar Be an Allergen?

Can Sugar Be an Allergen?

It’s well known by now that too much sugar in the diet can be bad for your health, particularly added sugar. It has been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Americans consume way more than the recommended maximum amount of added sugar and most people, kids and adults, should be cutting back. But, an important question is whether or not it is possible to be allergic to sugar.


Bad Reactions to Sugar

It’s not surprising that sugar would be called into question as an allergen. We have all experienced that feeling of having eaten too much sugar, and it doesn’t feel great. You might experience nausea, shaking and then a crash. But, if you feel worse than most people after eating something sugary, does that mean you’re allergic? The answer is: not likely. There is no evidence from research that sugar can act as a true allergen, a substance that triggers an antibody-mediated immune system reaction.


Sugar Intolerance is Real

If you do, or your child does, experience what seems like an unusual reaction to sugar, beyond the typical “sugar high” and then crash, it could be explained as an intolerance. Food intolerance is not an allergic reaction, but it is a reaction in the body, often caused by the lack of an enzyme needed to break down a particular food.

While it is not known what exactly triggers an intolerant reaction to sugar, it is well-documented. In particular, intolerance to fructose has been studied. Fructose is the sugar found in fruits naturally, but it is also present in sucrose, the sugar that is added to many processed foods like soda and baked goods.

A study of patients with irritable bowel syndrome found that fructose could be a trigger or cause of this condition, also known as IBS. IBS causes a number of digestive symptoms, like pain, bloating, gas and diarrhea. In most people it is not known what causes the symptoms, but this study has shown that fructose could be one trigger. The patients in the study were split into two groups. One avoided fructose for 12 weeks and saw significant improvement in IBS symptoms.

Right now there is no evidence that sugar can be an allergen, but research into food allergies of all types is ongoing and new information may turn up eventually. It is known, however, that sugar can cause worse reactions in some people and that these people may have sugar intolerance.

If you suspect that your child doesn’t tolerate sugar well, it can’t hurt to cut back. Most kids are eating too much added sugar anyway. Try reducing sugary beverages, including juices, desserts of all kinds, candy and processed foods with added sugar. Read labels carefully to look for sugar content and sugar as a top ingredient and avoid these foods. If your child feels better with less sugar, she may be intolerant of sugar or she may simply be reaping the benefits of a healthier diet. Either way, less added sugar is better for her health.


2 thoughts on “Can Sugar Be an Allergen?

  1. Thank you for this article. It states in simple terms that while there is no official “allergy” to sugar, there are definitely types of reactions to sugar that are not universal and therefore implies that some people are less tolerant of sugar than others. I am one of those people that is sugar intolerant. It is hard living with and working around people who don’t appreciate how difficult it is to restrict sugar in my diet. My hope is that the negative affects of sugar will become more well known, and then taken more seriously by the medical profession and the general public alike.

    1. Thank you for your comment and feedback, Jennifer. Yes, it IS really difficult to restrict sugar, especially because it’s in so many commercial food products — probably the vast majority of them — and under so many different names (e.g., dextrose, fructose, corn syrup, maltose, etc.) and in products many people wouldn’t expect, like breads, sauces, dressings, many meat products and so many others. In our home, we went without sugar — or tried really hard to — for about six months and still try to cut it out most of the time, and it’s a real challenge.

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