A high-sugar diet is bad for gut health and possibly increases the risk of colitis, a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), concluded the authors of a new study published in Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday.
Researchers with UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, Texas, studied the effects of dietary sugars, namely glucose, fructose and sucrose, in mice for seven days.
Prior to feeding the animals a solution of water with a 10% concentration of dietary sugars, the researchers used “gene-sequencing techniques to identify the types and prevalence of bacteria found in the large intestines.” They repeated this step seven days later after feeding the mice the sugary solution.
By the end, the researchers found that mice that were either genetically predisposed to develop the colitis, or those that were given a chemical to induce the condition, “developed more severe symptoms if they were first given sugar,” per a news release regarding the findings.
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More specifically, after seven days, the mice fed sucrose, fructose and “especially glucose,” the researchers said, “showed significant changes in the microbial population inside the gut.” The researchers also noted that the mucus layer that protects the lining of the large intestine was thinning after the mice were fed a high-sugar diet.
“Bacteria known to produce mucus-degrading enzymes, such as Akkermansia, were found in greater numbers, while some other types of bugs considered good bacteria and commonly found in the gut, such as Lactobacillus, became less abundant,” per the news release.
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Though the research only looked at the effects of sugar on gut health in mice, the study “clearly shows that you really have to mind your food,” Dr. Hasan Zaki, who led the effort, said in a statement, noting that this is especially true in Western countries, where diets are often higher in fat, sugar and animal protein. There is also a greater prevalence of colitis – which can cause “persistent diarrhea, abdominal pain and rectal bleeding” – in Western countries, the researchers noted.
Indeed: As of 2015, an estimated 1.3% of U.S. adults – about 3 million people – were diagnosed with an inflammatory bowel disease, an increase from 0.9% or 2 million adults in 1999, per federal health data.
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“Colitis is a major public health problem in the U.S. and in other Western countries,” added Zaki. “This is very important from a public health point of view.”