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I stumbled across the Amazon page for Haribo Sugar-Free Gummi Bears

The Reviews and Questions posted there were extremely entertaining, however I have my doubts as to if they are true or just some internet hoax. After all, why would Hairbo sell candy that causes these effects?

The product does contain a disclosure

Safety Warning
Consumption of some sugar-free candies may cause stomach discomfort and/or a laxative effect. Individual tolerance will vary. If this is the first time you’ve tried these candies, we recommend beginning with one-fourth of a serving size or less.

But that doesn't seem to match the depth of some of the horror stories told about "Satan's Diarrhea Hate Bears" in the user reviews, or what I read from some brief Google searches.

Phrases like

  • "Cramps, sweating, bloating beyond my worst nightmare."
  • "Don't think of this as candy. Think of this as medication; a tasty alternative to nasty laxative teas"
  • "Severe gastrointestinal pain which eventually led to gas, diarrhea, and vomiting"
  • "Volcanic lava being forcefully ejected from my rear"

Are sugar-free gummy bears, or more specifically the substance Lycasin used in them, really as deadly to your gastrointestinal tract as the internet seems to want me to believe?

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A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition did find that Lycasin-sweetened candy did produce an increased prevalence of gastrointestinal symptoms (bloating, flatulence, rumbling, colic, and watery feces) in adults compared to a sucrose control and the prevalence increased with serving size (40g vs. 25g). Isomalt candies also produced similar effects.

It seems plausible that if you ate considerably more of the candy (40g really isn't all that much. I routinely see what are presumably intended as single-serving packages of candy 4 times that size or more), the symptoms would increase in prevalence and severity.

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    Have you got a reference to demonstrate that Haribo Sugar-Free Gummi Bears contain Lycasin? I only found unreliable sources (e.g. Amazon, that also claimed they contain sugar.) – Oddthinking Sep 8 '14 at 16:12
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    @Oddthinking - The product page linked in the question said they contained Lycasin when I wrote this answer, though it has since changed. Haribo's site lists "Hydrogenated Glucose Syrup (LYCASIN)" as the first ingredient for their sugarless gummy bears, though I can't seem to link directly to that product as their site is a flash monstrosity. – Compro01 Sep 9 '14 at 21:30
  • @Oddthinking Aww they wiped out all the Q&A on the Amazon site too in addition to changing the product description. I thought the Q&A pretty was pretty entertaining, but at least the reviews are still there :) – Rachel Sep 13 '14 at 19:45
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Haribo sugarless gummy bears contain Hydrogenated Glucose Syrup (HGS) (brand name LYCASIN). Source: Haribo.com

HGS, which is a sugar alcohol or polyol, can cause "loss of appetite, occasional diarrhoea, cramps, and a "bloated feeling". Source: Inchem.org

Not only HGS, but most other polyols used in "no-sugar" foods, mainly candies and gums, such as hydrogenated starch hydrolysates (HSH), isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, sorbitol and xylitol, but not erythritol, can cause abdominal bloating, excessive gas or diarrhea if consumed in excess. This happens because polyols are not digested in the human small intestine, so they pass to the large intestine where "beneficial" (normal) intestinal bacteria break them down into gases and other substances that can cause bloating and diarrhea. Source: Nutrientsreview.com

This is a known issue and producers typically place warnings about side effects on the packages; not sure if Haribo does, though.

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