Is IBS caused by fructose malabsorption?

By Sherry Golightly, Western Baptist dietitian

Researchers are unsure whether fructose causes Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) symptoms to worsen in some patients, or if they are suffering from fructose malabsorption and don’t have IBS at all. Regardless, many with the IBS diagnosis have experienced life-changing results after reducing fructose in their diet.

What is fructose malabsorption?

Fructose is a simple sugar normally absorbed into the small intestines by carriers. Fructose malabsorption means this is not happening properly. When fructose is not absorbed in the small intestines, it travels to the large intestines where the normal bacteria feast on it, resulting in bloating, flatulence, diarrhea and/or constipation, stomach pain and even mental depression.  

What causes the deficiency of the fructose carriers?

It could result when the supply is depleted from an “overdose” of fructose, or a hereditary deficiency of the carriers. In some cases, it may NOT be caused by a lack of carriers, but instead by conditions where bacteria have migrated from the large intestines to the small intestines to cause the symptoms. 

What is the treatment?

The recommended treatment is a low-fructose diet and foods with a low fructose to glucose ratio. That would mean eating less apples, pears and melon, and more peaches, plums, berries, citrus, bananas and pineapple.

Fructose malabsorption can be diagnosed with a simple hydrogen breath test. Find more information at the online support community at

Send us your health and nutrition questions, and our team of dietitians will answer them each Thursday. Check here next week for more tips and answers to your questions.

About Baptist Health Paducah

Baptist Health Paducah is a regional medical and referral center, serving about 200,000 patients a year from four states. With more than 1,800 employees and 200 physicians, it offers a full range of services, including cardiac and cancer care, diagnostic imaging, women’s and children’s services, surgery, emergency treatment, rehabilitation and more. Since its humble beginning in 1953, Baptist Health Paducah has grown from 117 beds to 349 beds on a campus covering eight square blocks.
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