Short-term increases in sugar consumption could increase the risk of inflammatory bowel disease and have a significant impact on our health, according to a new study by the University of Alberta.
The researchers found that mice had an increased susceptibility to chemically induced colitis and more severe symptoms after only two days of a high-sugar diet compared with those eating a balanced diet.
Karen Madsen, who specialises in diet and its effects on inflammatory bowel disease, said the results echo what many patients with colitis have been saying for a long time: small changes in their diet can make their symptoms flare up: “It’s been previously shown that the type of diet that you are on can change your susceptibility to disease.”
“We wanted to know how long it takes before a change in diet translates into an impact on health. In the case of sugar and colitis, it only took two days, which was really surprising to us. We didn’t think it would happen so quickly.”
What could drive such a significant change in such a short time? It turns out it’s all about gut bacteria and the impact food has on them. Fibre-rich foods act as fuel for the “good” bacteria that live in the gut and produce short-chain fatty acids, which are critical for an efficient immune response. Eating high-sugar diets and decreasing intake of fibre feeds “bad” microbes, such as E. coli, that are associated with inflammation and a defective immune response.
Madsen’s study showed that the mice on the high-sugar diet had greater intestinal tissue damage and a defective immune response. These problems were alleviated when their diet was supplemented with short-chain fatty acids normally produced by good bacteria.
Madsen and her colleagues also showed that just two days on the high-sugar diet and the absence of short-chain fatty acids caused an increase in gut permeability, opening interesting avenues of research on how diet may affect the bacteria in our gastrointestinal tract and brain health.
“There is an increasing amount of evidence that suggests there’s a link between the bacteria present in our gut and neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s,” explained Madsen.