Sugar is a good energy source but can cause several health problems. Excessive consumption of sugar can lead to obesity and other chronic diseases. It also affects the gut microbiota by altering the pH level of your stomach and causing an imbalance in your microbiome diversity.
Many people, scientists and journalists have recently talked about the effect of artificial sweeteners on the gut microbiome but have perhaps forgotten that sugar can also cause adverse effects in the gut if you exaggerate its use.
This article discusses how sugar affects your gut microbiome—and how you can maintain a healthy gut bacteria balance even if you love sweet treats.
We have certain bacteria in our gut called probiotics that ferment fibre into short-chain fatty acids that feed the cells lining our intestines (our gut).
These cells are part of our immune system; they help fight infections from harmful germs like E.Coli or Salmonella enteritidis. Some studies show less diversity in these healthy bacteria may increase susceptibility to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease (Satokari, 2020).
As per the MDPI research journal, excessive consumption of sugar can cause low stomach acid. This can lead to bacterial overgrowth, which causes inflammation and other problems.
How does this happen? The bacteria that live in our guts need food to grow and thrive.
So, what’s the deal with sugar? Studies show that high-sugar diets can reduce diversity in the gut microbiome. Diversity is important for health, and it can be restored by probiotics (or prebiotics) and a clean diet (Garcia et al., 2022).
Using a high-sugar diet for 12 weeks, researchers found that the microbiome experienced changes in diversity and composition. Diversity is the number of different types of bacteria present in an environment, while composition refers to how much each type accounts for (Noble, 2016).
Sugar can cause inflammation. When you eat food, your body breaks it down into simple sugars that are absorbed into the bloodstream. Some of these sugars are used immediately by cells for energy, while others are stored in fat and liver cells and later returned to the bloodstream as glucose when needed.
Certain individuals may be more prone than others to developing these conditions due to their genetics or other risk factors (such as being overweight). Still, emerging evidence suggests that gut bacteria may also play an important role (Arnone, 2021).
Sugar can also affect the diversity of your gut bacteria.
In a study published in Nature Magazine, researchers found that rats fed a high amount of sugar had fewer types of gut bacteria than those fed low amounts. This is because sugar causes an increase in fermentation in the large intestine, which reduces its capacity for absorbing nutrients from food and leads to problems with nutrient absorption and metabolism.
Sugar can damage the intestinal barrier. Increased sugar intake is linked to increased gut permeability, which can lead to a leaky gut. A leaky gut is often characterized by bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, or constipation.
Sugar is not the enemy, but moderation is a key. A healthy diet is a balanced diet; it’s not about giving up sugar entirely. Sugar is just one factor that can affect the microbiome, and there are others—stress, exercise, and sleep—to consider.
Of course, plenty of foods with high levels of sugar contain important nutrients such as fibre or vitamins; fruit juices have been shown to benefit gut health compared with soda pop because they provide antioxidants and the glucose molecules needed by our cells.
As you can see, sugar could be better for you. Some studies have shown that artificial sweeteners may disrupt the microbiome in the gut and affect its ability to break down food completely or efficiently absorb nutrients from certain foods like fibre or protein—all of which can lead to health problems like obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
We can see that sugar can have a significant impact on your microbiome and the health of your gut. The takeaway from this is that moderation is key. Eating sugar in moderation benefits gut health, so don’t go overboard!
Satokari, R. (2020) Sugar disrupts microbiome, leading to metabolic disease and diabetes, Medical News Today. MediLexicon International. Available at: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/sugar-disrupts-microbiome-and-immune-function-leading-to-metabolic-disorders (Accessed: January 24, 2023).
Noble, E.E. et al. (2021) Gut microbial taxa elevated by dietary sugar disrupt memory function, Nature News. Nature Publishing Group. Available at: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41398-021-01309-7 (Accessed: January 24, 2023).
Garcia, K. et al. (2022) Impact of dietary sugars on gut microbiota and Metabolic Health, MDPI. Multidisciplinary Digital Publishing Institute. Available at: https://www.mdpi.com/2673-4540/3/4/42 (Accessed: January 24, 2023).
Arnone, D. (2021) Sugars and gastrointestinal health – sciencedirect, ScienceDirect. Available at: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S1542356521013057 (Accessed: January 24, 2023).
Noble, E.E. (2016) Early-Life Sugar Consumption Affects the Rat Microbiome Independently of Obesity, Academic.oup.com. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/147/1/20/4669738 (Accessed: January 24, 2023).
Ma, X. et al. (2022) Excessive intake of sugar: An accomplice of inflammation, Frontiers. Frontiers. Available at: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fimmu.2022.988481/full (Accessed: January 24, 2023).
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