What The Bear Does In The Woods

11 Oct

With Amazon rapidly becoming the marketplace of the world, it has also slowly become the forum for public reactions to global commerce. Nowhere is this more evident than in the wonderful and often genius satire of Amazon Joke Reviews. I first encountered this phenomenon when someone sent me a link to the helpful book, How To Avoid Huge Ships. Reading the reviews literally had me passing out with laughter at my desk. Over the years I have enjoyed other classics such as the Hutzler Banana Slicer (where the “customer-submitted images” are the real show stopper) and the BIC Cristal for Her debacle (in which some of the reviews seriously have some of the best social satire I have seen in years).

Thus I was excited to see a new contestant making the rounds of my Facebook feed this morning, this 5-lb bag of Sugar-Free Haribo Gummy Bears. As I read these reviews, my laughter came with a touch of fear, for this time I knew that these were not merely the elaborate works of trolls. Many of these horrifying stories are likely real.

How do I know this? Because I have seen these horrors for myself.

It’s hard for me to paraphrase so I’ll let the words of these brave consumers speak for themselves.

From C. Torok:

BUT (or should I say BUTT), not long after eating about 20 of these all hell broke loose. I had a gastrointestinal experience like nothing I’ve ever imagined. Cramps, sweating, bloating beyond my worst nightmare. I’ve had food poisoning from some bad shellfish and that was almost like a skip in the park compared to what was going on inside me.

Then came the, uh, flatulence. Heavens to Murgatroyd, the sounds, like trumpets calling the demons back to Hell…the stench, like 1,000 rotten corpses vomited. I couldn’t stand to stay in one room for fear of succumbing to my own odors.

But wait; there’s more. What came out of me felt like someone tried to funnel Niagara Falls through a coffee straw. I swear my sphincters were screaming. It felt like my delicate starfish was a gaping maw projectile vomiting a torrential flood of toxic waste. 100% liquid. Flammable liquid. NAPALM. It was actually a bit humorous (for a nanosecond)as it was just beyond anything I could imagine possible.


Sarah Oh tells a tale that might be too traumatic for some viewers, especially parents of young children:

What happened in the following 24 hours brought us back down to size. After eating approximately 30 gummy bears, [my son] fell into a deep, sugar-free-gummy-induced sleep.

The next morning, the nightmare began.

I awoke to the aroma of something sickeningly sweet, yet rancid, permeating the entire house. I assumed one of our cats threw up somewhere, or maybe someone (my husband perhaps?) left a squirt of poo under the toilet seat. I figured I would figure out the culprit later, after my healthy breakfast of Count Chocula and Bud Light Lime.

This next part plays in slow motion in my mind…

I heard the whimpers of my son, the fruit of my loins, my reason for living, and knew he had awoken from his slumber. I went into his room to fetch him. And that’s when the smell hit me.

A sweet, putrid smell that I cannot accurately describe entered my nostrils. I gagged, felt the bud light and cereal re-enter my throat, and using all of my willpower, swallowed it back down for digestion a second time.

Then my eyes focused on my son. Still laying in bed. His bed. It looked like a crime scene. A crime scene where the blood is brown…and stinky. His Thomas the Train bed was sprayed with the brown poo-water. His sheets, his pillow, his Winnie The Pooh (ironic?) stuffed animal. His Gymboree pajama bottoms (19.99 retail), originally white with images of puppies, were now a light brown, with specs of translucent gummy-esque bits. The poo-juice had covered my sweet son’s hair, streaked across his face. The folds of his chubby little legs.

As my mind raced to adjust to the madness I was witnessing, everything suddenly slowed down as I came to a realization. I focused on the culprit. “Haribo Gummy candy, Sugarless Gummy Bears, 5-Pound Bag.”

The boy was rushed to the shower, where he was hosed down and lathered in Old Spice body wash (the tear-free baby wash could not be trusted to a job of this magnitude).

The reviews are littered with almost 200 bowl-gripping tales of survival (and more than a few suggestions to send a bag of these to your local congressional representatives).

So what’s my story, you ask? Well sadly it isn’t as dramatic as some of these. My boyfriend and I bought a bag, albeit a small one, of these exact same bears from a local German-imports store. As much as I love gummy things, he loves them even more, and ended up snarfing up the whole bag almost before we got back to his apartment. Well, as you can predict, things didn’t go very well for him. Within a few hours he was bloaty and crampy and miserable. I figured out the culprit right away—saving us a panic trip to the ER—so patiently comforted him as best I could, while internally smirking, thinking it served him right for eating so much of the bag before sharing.

Next you might ask, just what in the schnitzelbank is going on here? How is a food with such a severe known reaction on the shelves? In essence, what has happened to my boyfriend and these other people is a reaction to the artifical sweeteners used in the candy. This brand specifically uses something called lycasin, which has a high concentration of sugar alcohols such as maltitol. (Interestingly, in this case “artificial sweeteners” is actually somewhat of a misnomer since many of these compounds do occur naturally in nature, just in very trace amounts. The artificial component comes from creating or collecting them in high concentrations.)

The reason that they work as a low-calorie sweetener is because our body can’t digest them. Unfortunately, many of the species of bacteria in our gut can, and do. When we eat a high dose of the sweeteners, it acts like fertilizer for these bacteria. They digest and ferment the sweetener—creating gas and bloating—and start to rapidly increase their populations, which can throw off your internal microbial ecology and lead to other symptoms of gastric distress.

While some species of gut flora might experience rapid population growth, the sweeteners might further throw off your internal microbial ecology by killing some of the other natural species. For example, the sugar alcohol xylitol is especially popular in sugar-free gums and toothpastes because it has been shown to “starve” and kill cavity-causing bacteria in the mouth, so it isn’t too far-fetched to imagine that it has a similar effect on other species of bacteria in our bodies. Although I couldn’t find specific studies linking artificial sweeteners with gut flora die-offs, the field of internal microbial ecology is still a relatively small one, and I think this is a reasonable hypothesis that will be investigated more in the future.

So the moral of the story is, no matter how delicious the sugar-free gummy bears (and they are, trust me on that too) or other sugar-free candies, ultimately eating the artificial sweeteners might be doing you more harm than the regular candies in the first place.

Although if you do splurge and end up throwing off your intestinal ecology, luckily Amazon has an answer for that too, as I saw as I read through the reviews:

So much irony, you guys....

So much irony, you guys….


7 Responses to “What The Bear Does In The Woods”

  1. Danielle C October 11, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

    Laughing hysterically – thank you!!

  2. Rely October 11, 2013 at 2:58 pm #

    😉 how does Chris feel about you telling all the people about his digestive misadventures?

    • Colleen October 11, 2013 at 3:08 pm #

      ………You make an excellent point.

      I, uh…I have to go send a text message….

  3. James October 11, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

    I know sugar alcohols can cause gastric distress, but what about other artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame? Also, chris kresser recently had an article where he explains that it may not be the xylitol in sugar free gum that is helping with cavities, but the increased saliva flow, as xylitol lozenges weren’t effective at reducing cavities like the gum was. http://chriskresser.com/fukushima-radiation-cavities-and-liver-disease And if it is the xylitol, how do you know it doesn’t reduce cavities by increasing good bacteria in the mouth, not just nuking everything like an antibiotic?

    • Colleen October 11, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

      Those are all excellent questions that hopefully will get answered as more research into internal microbial ecologies comes out. Hopefully the fact that there’s been a lot of mainstream news lately discussing the apparent link between gut health and weight gain will mean that there will be more research funding available for such areas as well.

    • Dana December 15, 2014 at 5:18 pm #

      Having had actual experience with sucralose and aspartame, my answer is: Zero gastric distress. I’m fine with Splenda. I’m fine with Nutrasweet.

      Mind you, I usually avoid aspartame, mainly because if I drink too much of it I start getting a headache. I really believe our responses to it depend on our PKU-related genes: if you have two mutated genes you get PKU and can’t have any phenylalanine at all, but if you have one mutated gene and one normal gene you’re supposed to be OK, but maybe that’s not true and people aren’t making enough of the breakdown enzyme and that’s why we keep hearing stories about Nutrasweet-caused MS symptoms.

      I have zero problems with sucralose though. Zero.

      Contrasted with stevia (how come no one questions what stevia does to gut flora?) which in large enough amounts gives me heart palpitations.

  4. bridgeworksmediagroup October 15, 2013 at 4:31 am #

    This totally happened to me with a bag of sugar-free Lifesavers! Oh god it was awful and of *course* I was at a family reunion when it happened… arrrrgh

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