Additional Information on Sorbitol for Health Professionals

What is Sorbitol

Sorbitol is a low calorie sugar known as a sugar alcohol or polyol. It is found naturally in foods including prunes and apricots; is made commercially, where its uses include ‘bulk sweeteners’, humectants (which help products retain moisture), as an ingredient in chewing gum and sugar free sweets and as an ingredient in some medicines

What does Sorbitol do in the body?

Sorbitol is very similar to glucose, but unlike glucose, it acts as a laxative by being absorbed very slowly into the blood. As a consequence of this slow absorption as it passes through the gut, the sorbitol tends to hold onto some water. This then increases the moisture content of the stools which leads to easier passage from the body.

Potential benefits and risks

Sorbitol rarely causes negative side effects (see below), however, due to the effect on the gut, this can cause abdominal discomfort, flatulence, diarrhoea, a need ‘to go’ and nausea. Sorbitol containing drugs can also cause diarrhoea.

If sorbitol is consumed in a large enough dose, excess water may not be absorbed, so can cause diarrhoea; flatulence; and loose stools.

Table 1 below outlines the potential risks and benefits of sorbitol.


Potential Benefits
  • Low Glycaemic Index
  • Involved in dental caries prevention
  • Low in energy
  • Laxative properties to help relieve constipation
  • Acts as a prebiotic, which promotes the production of good bacteria in the gut
  • Produces stools of a ‘good’ consistency to help leave the body easily, which can help prevent against colon cancer and irritable bowel disease
Potential Risks
  • Diarrhoea
  • Abdominal discomfort


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Learn more about recommended doses and sources of Sorbitol