How Sugar Affects Gut Health
Sugar. It’s almost a dirty word these days. Frequently admonished for its empty calories, this highly-palatable, sweet substance is also associated with an increased risk of diabetes, obesity, poor oral health, cardiovascular disease, and a number of other unfavorable health outcomes. But is sugar really the nutritional demon we’ve come to fear?
We could address this question from the standpoint of someone concerned with one of the aforementioned conditions since we’re now beginning to understand that sugar plays a significant role in increasing our susceptibility to all of them. But, in the interest of illustrating the further-reaching, gradual, and harmful effects of sugar, let’s address the question from the standpoint of someone concerned about restoring or maintaining general and overall health.
Hippocrates, often called the father of medicine, once said, “All disease begins in the gut.” So, what does that have to do with sugar? Far more than you may realize. An understanding of how sugar affects gut health and how gut health, in turn, affects our overall condition can shed some light on this subject.
But let’s back up and clarify what we mean by the term “gut health.” When we speak of the gut, we’re referring to the long tube, or gastrointestinal (GI) tract, that starts at the mouth and ends at the anus. The GI tract is an organ system comprised mainly of the stomach, small intestine, and large intestine. And the health of this system is measured by its bacterial composition, structural integrity of its lining, and the effectiveness of digestion of food and the absorption of nutrients.
We now know that the bacteria contained in our GI tract, otherwise known as gut flora, play a pivotal role in shaping our overall health. In a healthy gut, the bacteria provide immunity from infection and disease, promote stable GI function, and regulate metabolism. On the other hand, compromised gut health, which is characterized by bacterial imbalance, has been associated with a whole host of diseases and conditions including depression, multiple sclerosis, cardiovascular disease, eczema, obesity, allergies, autism, and a variety of autoimmune conditions.
Okay, so poor gut health is increasingly being associated with a growing list of health concerns, but how does sugar consumption contribute to poor gut health?
Sugar promotes the growth of bad bacteria in the gut, restricting the growth of beneficial bacteria and thereby disrupting the gut flora balance. It also creates inflammation in the gut, which can lead to intestinal permeability, nutrient malabsorption, and even an autoimmune response in many people, which may manifest itself as allergies, skin conditions, or even a full-blown autoimmune disease.
So, is sugar as bad as we’re making it out to be? Based on the research and evidence we have available to us today, I know I’ll be avoiding it.
In light of all of this information will you be changing how you eat?