What Is Sugar Intolerance in Children?
Birthday cake. Halloween candy. Pizza. Hot dogs. For kids with Sucrose Intolerance, a rare inherited disorder caused by Congenital Sucrase-Isomaltase Deficiency (CSID), eating these foods results in some fairly unpleasant consequences, including stomach aches, bloating, gas, chronic diarrhea, and more.
But it’s not just those kid staples. Children with CSID, also informally referred to as “Sugar Intolerance,” find it hard to tolerate any food – even “healthy” stuff, like apples and bananas! – that contains sugar or starches, which the body breaks down into fructose and glucose, major sources of energy for the body.
So, what’s going on here? Let’s call it the “Case of the Missing Enzyme Function.”
With Sugar Intolerance, children lack (or have very low levels of) certain chemicals, called enzymes, which are required to digest sucrose (table sugar). This type of sugar is added to packaged foods and it occurs naturally in those apples and bananas. Those missing enzymes also impact the digestion of a starch called maltose, which is found in grains, as well as in some kids’ favorite vegetables, corn and potatoes.
Kids with CSID have the deficiency at birth because it is genetic, but you might not notice it until you start introducing your baby to solid foods, at around four to six months. First foods – typically rice cereal, pureed bananas, peas – are loaded with sugars and starch.
When those sugars and starches aren’t digested properly, they slip into the colon where the bacteria go to work; and that’s when the symptoms start: chronic diarrhea (which is loose, watery stools three or more times a day), gas, bloating, vomiting, irritability, and even some diaper rash that defies even the strongest diaper cream.
Untreated, over time, CSID can lead to malnutrition, making it difficult for your child to gain weight and grow properly, a condition known as “failure to thrive.”
Treatment is simple though it does involve a fairly strict diet, so it’s not always easy to manage.
But the real challenge is getting the proper diagnosis. That’s because CSID is a very rare disease, which means most doctors, including pediatricians, don’t see enough cases to recognize it. Instead, they often think the symptoms of CSID are signs of other, more common gastrointestinal (GI) conditions.
Without a correct diagnosis, your child isn’t going to get the right treatment to really feel better. It’s best to see a specialist called a pediatric gastroenterologist (GI), who can use the newest tests for diagnosing sugar intolerance in children.
Fortunately, once CSID is diagnosed, both medication and specialized diet plans can have your child eating again without incident. Seek out a savvy registered dietitian (RD) with a recipe box of kid-favorite substitutes, and soon you can even whip up some CSID-friendly pizza!