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Is fructose malabsorption the same as fructose intolerance?

Patsy Catsos
Nutrition & Dietetics Specialist

No. If your small intestine doesn't completely absorb all the fructose in your meal, we call that fructose malabsorption (FM). If that malabsorbed fructose causes you to have uncomfortable or painful symptoms like bloating, flatulence, or diarrhea, we call that collection of symptoms dietary fructose intolerance. Not everyone with fructose malabsorption experiences fructose intolerance, so the two terms should not be used interchangeably.

Sometimes the terms "fructose intolerance" and "fructose malabsorption" have been used interchangeably. However, a clear distinction can be made. First, a rare condition called hereditary fructose intolerance is present at birth and usually diagnosed in infancy; in this case the baby cannot digest fructose, which can lead to jaundice, convulsions, diarrhea, vomiting, bloating, hypoglycemia, and liver and kidney damage. Dietary fructose intolerance is an out-of-date name for fructose malabsorption. Fructose malabsorption is when the cells of the intestines cannot absorb fructose normally; the fructose then reacts with naturally occurring bacteria, causing symptoms like bloating, pain, diarrhea, and gas. Fructose malabsorption symptoms are similar to those of irritable bowel syndrome. People with fructose malabsorption can often eat or drink small amounts of fructose without severe symptoms; people with hereditary fructose intolerance, on the other hand, must avoid all fructose and sucrose.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.