Special Report: Fructose Intolerance

Dr. Satish Rao

*Originally aired 11.15.12

AUGUSTA, Ga.–  Fructose intolerance is a relatively new diagnosis in the field of food sciences. If you are an IBS patient,  and you just can’t get a handle on your symptoms, you may need to be tested. As you’ll see, the condition is so new, and so specific, that your doctor may not even know about it.

Lauren Bairas/patient:   “I had no idea how sick I was. I did not realize you were not supposed to have vertigo all day every day.”

Lauren Bairas is talking about her dramatic improvement when Dr. Satish Rao diagnosed her with dietary fructose intolerance. Luren lives in Las Vegas, so we talked with her via Skype. She had a feeding tube because it seemed like everything she ate made her sick.

Paula Mitchell is a research scientist from Alabama. She ended up here in Augusta when doctors at Birmingham’s Kirkland Clinic gave up.

“They had done all the tests and basically said, ‘Everything’s normal, we have to cut you loose.” But everything wasn’t normal. The symptoms she’d experienced for years had begun to impact her quality of life.

“Bloating, distention, cramping, that sort of thing… it was constant.”

Her physician shared research that led her to Dr. Rao, head of the Gastroenterology/Hepatology Department at the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta University.

Rao/”I think the number of fructose cases being diagnosed now is less than 10%. Our diets have become enriched with fructose but our absorptive capacity is still limited. Part of the reason it’s more common now than before is we are now taking more fructose products than we ever did.”

Jennie Montgomery/WJBF news anchor: “About 2/3 of the fructose Americans consume comes from fruit drinks and carbonated beverages, but as high fructose corn syrup has become a common ingredient in so many foods, you may have increased your intake of fructose, even if you don’t drink sodas. Hot dog relish has HFCS… salad dressings, chocolate syrup, HFCS is the top ingredient in this pancake syrup… HFCS in hot dog buns.”

The problem for DFI patients is that the body can’t absorb fructose, can’t break it down… and that causes painful physical symptoms.

Dr. Rao/”Gas, bloating, pain, diarrhea, or IBS, as it’s often called.”

Right now, there’s just one way to treat DFI: removing fructose from the diet.

Paula Mitchell/”It’s just gonna involve a major dietary and lifestyle change.”

Which means avoiding all of this stuff– anything with HFCS– but it’s much more complicated than that. Imagine not being able to eat what you always considered healthy: fruits, like these apples and pineapples; most vegetables, including carrots, onions– all off limits.

Lauren/”I would go to the grocery store at 4:00 in the morning just so people wouldn’t see me cry. At first it was tricky. Once I got the hang of it though, my life has been immensely, immensley better.”

So much better that she made this artwork for Dr. Rao: the digestive tract, with a heart in the place where her feeding tube used to be.

Dr. Rao: “Many gastroenterologists don’t know about it, let alone general internists, let alone family physicians, and certainly I can’t expect the lay public to know about it.”

Rao says the key is recognition of the problem and diagnostic testing.

Paula Mitchell/ “That’s what they’re able to do here that they’re not able to do at a lot of places. It was a very simple test, you just sit there and breathe into a bag every 30 minutes.”

Dr. Rao/ “There is just a dearth of information, people don’t know about the existence of this problem, so the number of patients diagnosed in the next decade will go ten fold, easily.”

Paula/ “I’m happy to have a diagnosis and know that there’s something I can do about it.”

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