Sugar has a bad reputation when it comes to health and in many cases, this is justified. Overconsumption of sugar has been linked to weight gain, impaired blood glucose tolerance, heart ailments, tooth decay and liver problems, just to name a few. But a side effect you may not have previously considered is that a high sugar diet may be affecting the vitally important composition of your gut microbiome.
How does consuming too much sugar impact gut health and bacteria?
Recent studies have found that a high intake of sugars, as is present in the typical Western diet, can have a negative impact on the delicate balance of the bacteria that reside in our gut microbiome. Overconsumption of sugar has been shown to reduce the diversity of bacteria in the gut as well as increase the abundance of inflammatory (and not so desirable) Proteobacteria.1 A high sugar diet blocks the production of a protein called Roc, which is necessary for the colonisation of beneficial bacteria in the gut.2 It’s been found to decrease the abundance of Bacteroidetes, which help keep inflammation in check and support the important function of the gut barrier.1 If the gut barrier is compromised (known as ‘leaky gut’), it can lead to a whole host of problems for digestion, immunity and beyond.
Gut bacteria imbalance might also increase cravings for sugar,3 leading to a vicious cycle that further damages the gut and may have detrimental effects on other aspects of our general health and wellbeing.
Whilst it’s important to note these studies were conducted in animals not humans, they do provide valuable insights into how excessive consumption of sugar could be affecting the composition of our own gut microbiomes. The key to having a healthy, resilient gut is having a high bacterial diversity and sugar appears to affect both the diversity of bacteria types and their function.
Does that mean I have to give up all sweet treats?
Eating sweet treats periodically, during celebrations like Easter, Halloween, Christmas and birthdays, is unlikely to trigger any major gut and health changes in most people. However, it may be beneficial to look at how much sugar you’re having on a daily basis. Consuming whole foods that contain naturally occurring sugars, like fruits, vegetables, grains and dairy is ok because the body digests these foods more slowly, providing a steadier supply of energy for your cells. Plus, they contain other invaluable nutrients like fibre, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. The sugars you need to be mindful of are the ones hidden in processed products like soft drinks, flavoured yoghurts, cereal, biscuits, cakes, chips, sauces, bread and other packaged foods. These might be disguised in the ingredients list as corn syrup, fruit juice concentrate, sucrose, fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, inverted sugar, malt sugar, honey, palm sugar, rice syrup, molasses and maltose.
Eating a healthy, balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables, good sources of protein like legumes, lean meat, fish, poultry, tofu, nuts and seeds, whole grains and beneficial fats, whilst moderating sugar and processed food intake, will be positively impacting your gut and keeping your microbiome healthy and happy.
How do I restore gut health after a sugar overload?
If you think your gut microbiome or health is suffering from too much sugar, it might be worthwhile considering a daily probiotic supplement. Probiotics like Inner Health Plus Double Strength can aid in the maintenance of a normal healthy gastrointestinal system and support digestive function and enhance levels of good bacteria in the gut.
If you’re feeling particularly uncomfortable after a sugar-laden celebration like Easter or a birthday party, where you might have overindulged in all sorts of rich foods, you might benefit from having Inner Health Digestive Defence on hand. Taking 2 capsules of Digestive Defence can help to relieve bloating and wind, reduces digestive discomfort and maintains normal bowel function.
If a sugar binge has triggered your (medically diagnosed) IBS, Inner Health IBS Control may provide extra-strength symptom relief of gut pain and discomfort, intestinal gas and bloating.
- Satokari R, 2020, ‘High Intake of Sugar and the Balance between Pro- and Anti-Inflammatory Gut Bacteria’, Nutrients, Vol 12, no 5, p 1348
- Townsend G, 2018, ‘Dietary sugar silences a colonisation factor in a mammalian gut symbiont’, PNAS, vol 116, no 1, pp 233-238
- Ousey J, 2023, ‘Gut microbiota suppress feeding induced by palatable foods’, Curr Biol, vol 33, no 1, pp 147-157