Sugar effects the gut

The Effects of Sugar on the Gut

If you didn’t already know this: I’m passionate about gut health. And I genuinely believe that most modern ailments stem from a gut imbalance. One of the most common of these gut issues has to do with the general population’s love of sugar and, subsequently, its effect on the gut. 

Many of us understand that sugar is the root cause of diabetes, but I want to show you how it can push your gut out of balance and cause many other problems.

Long story short: go easy on the sugar. 

If you’re having gut problems or experience gas and bloating regularly, check out my post on how I fixed my gut in 90-days.

What is Sugar?

Sugar is everywhere. First, let’s define the different “types” of sugar. 

A very long time ago, when we were scavenging the lands for food, we would occasionally find particularly exciting food. Fruit. 

Fruit comes in all shapes and sizes, and depending on where you live, it’s only available in small quantities and at certain times of the year.

Take berry season, for example. In one area of the world, berry season may only last 2-3 months. You’d have to wait one whole year before you can eat those precious fruits again. 

Fast forward to today. Most of us can head down to the local grocery store and pick up any type of fruit we want, at any time of year. Sure, it might be expensive, but it’s available, and considering these fruits were only available for a limited time of the year, it seems a bit strange that we have this same fruit available to us 24/7, right?

So why do we seek out fruits? You guessed it. Sugar. These fruits carry a hit you couldn’t get anywhere else in nature. And using seasonal fruit to fatten up for the coming winter was useful. Now they’re available 24/7. Are we continually fattening up, or worse, causing severe illnesses.

Now, I don’t want you to think that fruit is all that bad for you. Certain fruits have enormous benefits for the gut and the body in general, and it depends on when and how you consume the fruit. However, we should be thinking about how and what we are consuming. 

Modern-day sugar

Now, I don’t think that fruit is the real issue in sugar consumption for the general population (although go careful on those fruit juice, prefer smoothies because they still include fiber and many other nutrients). The more problematic type of sugar we should be worrying about is “Processed Sugar.” 

Processed sugar is technically derived from plants. So it’s got to be good, right? When we start messing with mother nature too much, we always run the risk of messing up digestion and nutrition utilization.

It’s also important to note that processed sugar is not always the white granulated crystals you think of what someone says “sugar.” Today, processed sugar comes from a wide variety of sources and in a variety of different ways. 

And guess what? Packets may say “sugar-free, “ but don’t be fooled. Here are a few other names for processed sugar/sweeteners. 

  • Dextrose
  • Fructose
  • Galactose
  • Glucose
  • Lactose
  • Maltose
  • Sucrose
  • Beet sugar
  • Cane sugar
  • Coconut sugar
  • Date sugar
  • Dextrin
  • Agave Nectar/Syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Carob syrup
  • Evaporated cane juice
  • Fruit juice
  • High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
  • Honey
  • Invert sugar
  • Malt syrup
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Rice syrup
  • Sorghum syrup

You’ll find these sugar types in a lot of different products, from muffins to frozen spinach. It’s just unreal the types of food that companies are contaminating with a dash of sugar so that you keep coming back for more. 

What’s so bad about sugar?

There are several reasons why sugar can be detrimental once it gets inside your body. I specifically want to focus on sugar’s effect on our gut and how it can change our microbiome (the bacteria within our gut) makeup.

In our gut, we have a vast biodiversity of bacteria, and these bacteria all feed off the food we consume. Sometimes these bacteria work for us, and sometimes they work against us. You’ve probably heard of the terms good and bad bacteria. 

It’s quite common for us to have a little harmful bacteria present in our microbiome. Problems only come about when bacteria start to multiply and overgrow into larger populations. 

SIBO (Small intestine bacterial overgrowth), leaky gut, bloating, gas, and other gut-related issues are linked with the overgrowth of bad bacteria. When these ailments become too severe, they can lead to problems like autoimmune disease

How does sugar promote the growth of bad bacteria? 

Now I’m going to tell you something surprising. Sugar isn’t bad for you! Wait. What? That’s not what you’ve been telling us. Well, thinking back to our hunter-gatherer fruit situation, we’d intake a small amount of fruit and expect our body to absorb it. 

Our small intestine can absorb a small amount of sugar, which is transported to the liver and muscle for usage. However, when we eat a large amount of sugar, some of it will pass through to the large intestine, where the bulk of our microbiome lives. 

When that happens, it’s feast time for your harmful bacteria. They love sugar, and the extra fuel (aka sugar) allows them to thrive and push out our good bacteria, causing a possible overgrowth of pathogenic bacteria.

If we continue the high sugar diet over time, inflammation will become more of an issue as your immune system tries to keep your gut in check. It’s basically in overdrive, which means your immune system can’t perform its regular task of healing the body. 

Consequently, if your immune system cannot perform its job, then anything in your body can start to fail, which is why sugar is linked to so many ailments and diseases. 

Let’s not forget that Fungi

Sugar related gut issues are not all about the microbiome; we also have another set of organisms living within our gut. Fungi. 

When most people think about Fungi, they think of mushrooms. But there are many more types of fungi, and they’re living everywhere.

Even our gut.

We rely on some essential fungi that digest certain nutrients and produce by-products, which are vital nutrients for the body. The makeup of these fungi in the gut is called the mycobiome

Again, certain fungi could become pathogenic (or harmful) in a similar way that bacteria can – IF they are allowed to overgrow. It is ok to have a certain amount of fungi in your gut, but when they grow out of hand, they can start impacting your digestion and fighting for dominance with other fungi and bacteria. 

The most commonly known fungus is Candida, of which there are many subspecies. These contribute to fungal infections such as thrush, yeast infections, and Candidiasis. And you may also see an unbalance of the fungal community on your skin if you have ringworm or tinea versicolor.

So we know that fungus can become an issue – but what does this have to do with sugar?

Well, fungus LOVES sugar. Given the right conditions and an overabundance of sugar, the fungus feeds on the sugar leading to overgrowth and causes similar issues to bacteria. 

To make matters worse, if the infection is long-lived, we’ve also seen that fungus can grow a natural shield to protect itself. This is called a biofilm. The biofilm will surround the fungus and attach to the gut lining, protecting it from natural and synthetic anti-fungal medicine and allowing the fungal population to grow even further. 

You don’t drive your cravings.

Ok, here’s the crazy part. All those organisms floating around in your gut, they are controlling you! 

There is a direct connection from the gut to the brain, named the gut-brain axis. We now know that bacteria can send out messages to the brain via the vagus nerve and change our behavior! 

So if you’re continuously craving sweets and sugar, it could well be an overgrowth in your gut fueling that feeling.

It’s a crazy chicken and egg situation; the more sugar you eat, the larger the population of harmful bacteria, the more messages will be sent to the brain to scout out more sugar! 

What’s the alternative

We know that sugar will wreak havoc with your microbiome and mycobiome. So what should we do about it?

Simple answer. Stop eating refined sugars. And limit your intake of fruit. 

If you continue gorging yourself on cakes, white bread, cookies, and processed food, then you’re creating the perfect environment for bacteria or fungal overgrowths. You may end up with a diagnosis such as SIBO, Candidiasis, or dysbiosis. 

And it may not stop there; when these conditions get out of hand, it can lead to some severe consequences such as Crohn’s Disease, autoimmune conditions, blood infections, and many more diseases. 

Alternatively, if you get your sugar craving under control now (yes, the craving will reduce when you reduce your sugar intake, just give it time), you’re saving yourself from future health issues. You’ll likely find yourself with more energy to tackle the day. 

So don’t give in to that sugar craving!


Nick helps aspiring runners learn how to take a healthful approach to their training and races so they don’t crash and burn before they achieve their goals.

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