How Excess Sugar Affects Your Gut Microbiome

We usually associate excess sugar with empty calories, dental dilemmas and weight gain, but too much of the sweet stuff can negatively impact our gut health too — particularly the complex collection of microbes that make up our gut microbiome.

Our gut microbiome plays a major role in our well-being. The mini residents that live inside our gut have the ability to affect our mood, mental health, risk of disease, immunity and much more.

With everything we eat or drink interacting with our gut microbiome in some form, our diet needs to boost and support these microbes as much as possible.

Some compounds (like prebiotic fibre!) can boost and support our gut microbiome. Others can have a negative impact... like sugar.

A diet high in sugar alters the population of our gut microbiome, and over time, this can have a negative effect on our health.

Related Read | Why Is Prebiotic Fibre So Good For You?


How can excess sugar affect your gut microbiome?

So what happens to our gut flora when we eat too much sugar?

Our gut microbiome is a mini ecosystem. Filled with good bacteria, bad bacteria, fungi, and viruses, the populations of these microbes can change depending on our diet.

The odd dessert or sweet treat isn't generally enough to change this ecosystem. However, a diet consistently high in sugar can alter our gut microbiome and even limit its vital functions.

Related Read | The Amazing Functions of our Gut Microbiome

Health experts recommend that we consume no more than 30g of free sugars a day.

At first, that may seem like an easy limit to stick to, but you’d be surprised at how easy it is to max out this sugar allowance before dinner time rolls around

Processed convenience food and sugary drinks are usually the biggest culprits. As an example, the 330ml drinks of one 'on-the-go' natural smoothie brand maxes out your free sugar allowance in one hit!

So it's important to consider the food and drink that we're introducing to our mini microbes.

Including too much sugar in our diet can have two major effects on our gut microbiome...


1. Increase unfavourable bacteria

Bad bacteria ‘feed’ on sugar in the gut. This means a diet high in sugar begins to create an environment in our gut that favours these bacteria and encourages their populations to increase.

These bacteria (usually proteobacteria) create toxins which cause damage and inflammation in the gut.


2. Reduce gut microbiome diversity

As the unfavourable bacteria multiply in their favoured sugary conditions, the diversity of our gut microbiome changes. As bad bacteria increase, populations of good bacteria decrease.

This change is known as dysbiosis (an imbalance in our gut flora).

A less diverse gut microbiome has been associated with a greater risk of disease and chronic conditions like obesity and diabetes.


How sugar changes our gut microbiome. Increases bad, ‘sugar-loving’ bacteria. Decreases good bacteria. Reduces gut microbiome diversity.



So how does a change in the gut microbiome affect our health?

The imbalance of our gut flora caused by excess sugar can lead to a number of conditions, from inflammation to increased anxiety.

Here’s how a diet high in sugar could be negatively affecting your health...


Damage to the gut wall

The toxins produced by the sugar-loving, bad bacteria can cause inflammation in the gut wall. Over time this can lead to a condition known as ‘leaky gut syndrome’.

This allows toxins and bad bacteria to enter our bloodstream, putting us at an increased risk of illness.


Decreases nutrient absorption

If the gut wall is compromised by inflammation, our ability to absorb nutrients can also be affected. Inflammation can reduce the surface area that's available for nutrient absorption.

Some species of good bacteria also help to produce useful nutrients and compounds for us to use. For example butyrate!

A decrease in good bacteria means we’re missing out on the beneficial nutrients they create for us.


Reduced immune function

Over 70% of our immune system is found in the gut and our friendly bacteria are in constant communication with it to keep us healthy and fight off pathogens. An imbalance of gut bacteria can change and limit these communications.

The friendly bacteria of our gut microbiome also provide a physical barrier which can stop harmful bacteria from entering our blood.


Increased anxiety and depression

Our gut microbiome communicates with the brain via the gut-brain axis. Studies are now finding that high populations of certain bad bacteria can increase our likelihood of developing anxiety or depression.

Related Read | The Gut-Brain Axis: The Gut Microbiome And Wellbeing

A woman lying on a bed with arms covering her face, as if in a low mood.


Increased AGE production

When sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream via the gut it can combine with proteins or lipids to form AGEs (advanced glycation end-products). Excess sugar increases AGE production.

AGEs are biomarkers usually associated with ageing. However, an increase in their presence can also indicate high levels of inflammation, oxidative stress, diabetes and other serious illnesses.



How to boost your gut microbiome

Worried about the diversity of your gut microbiome? The variety of bacteria within our gut microbiome is not fixed, we have the power to boost and improve the health of our gut microbiome by changing the food and drink that we consume consistently.


How to boost your gut microbiome... Consume more prebiotic fibre. Include probiotics in your diet. Eat a wider variety of fruit and veg.

Of course, reducing the amount of sugar in your diet is one of the best ways to protect your gut microbiome — as well as looking after your dental health!

We can also boost the friendly bacteria in your gut microbiome by...

  • Consuming more prebiotic fibre (at least 3-5g per day is recommended)
  • Including probiotics in your diet
  • Eating a wider variety of fruit and veg!


For a quick prebiotic fibre fix, you could drink Jamu! Each can of Jamu Wild Water contains 5g of chicory root inulin, a prebiotic fibre that 'feeds' the friendly bacteria of your gut microbiome. 

It's important to remember that, like us, our friendly bacteria need a regular source of nourishment to survive and thrive.

A farmers market stall filled with fresh, colourful fruits and vegetables.

Keeping your diet filled with a wide range of fruit and veg, or for example drinking Jamu Wild Water regularly, provides a regular source of prebiotic fibre, which helps to keep your gut microbiome diverse and healthy.

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