The most common side effects of maltitol, a sugar alcohol used as a sugar substitute, include gas, abdominal bloating, diarrhea, dehydration and headaches. Maltitol contains large molecules that are not readily digested by the body. When the body is unable to digest a molecule, it travels from the small intestine into the large intestine, where it is fermented. The side effects often begin during this fermentation and can vary from person to person. Some may not experience any negative side effects at all, while others may experience them to the point of illness.
Maltitol is used in many reduced-calorie and sugar-free foods. It is almost as sweet as regular sugar and contains fewer calories. Therefore, it is often used as a sugar substitute by those who are trying to lose weight. The down side, however, is that it is an artificial sweetener, which puts people who use it at risk for gaining more weight around the waistline.
Diarrhea, gas and bloating are the most common maltitol side effects, because maltitol acts as a laxative. This is often the case when it is consumed in amounts that exceed 20 grams a day. Dehydration may also be present in cases of diarrhea. This is a result of the amount of fluid that is lost during that time. The diarrhea and the symptoms associated with it should disappear once the maltitol has left the body.
Maltitol can cause headaches for some people, especially when taken on an empty stomach. Therefore, it is a good idea to eat other foods prior to eating foods laced with maltitol. Consuming maltitol in large amounts throughout the day can also contribute to headaches. Other maltitol side effects include severe abdominal cramping, vomiting and nausea.
The side effects of maltitol become worse as the intake of it is increased. This means it should always be taken in moderation. If consuming it for the first time, one should only consume a very small amount to see if any maltitol side effects will occur. Some people may develop a tolerance to maltitol over a period of three to four days when it is taken daily.
One of the good maltitol side effects is that the acids in the mouth do not break it down, so it does not contribute to cavities the way natural sugar does. Another benefit is that it is absorbed into the body at a slower rate than other sugars. As a result, it may be a better choice for some diabetics, because it does not spike blood sugar levels as high as other sugars do.