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Sugar-rich diet can damage gut mucosa and worsen risk of developing colitis, a chronic digestive disease

·3 min read

Our body doesn't need any additional sugar; it makes the required amount by breaking down carbohydrates and the rest is supplied by the liver. Despite this, many people, especially those with a sweet tooth, end up indulging in sugary food items almost daily.

This excess consumption of sugar leads to various diseases including diabetes and fatty liver. High sugar levels in the body can also result in obesity, inflammation and hypertension, which are considered to be risk factors for stroke and heart diseases.

A recent study, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine on 28 October, 2020, found that high sugary diets can damage the gut and increase the risk of developing colitis.

Colitis, a chronic digestive disease

Colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease where the inner lining of the colon (large intestine) gets inflamed. In this chronic digestive disease, the person suffers from persistent diarrhoea, pain in the abdomen and rectal bleeding. Colitis can occur due to infection, loss of blood supply in the colon or if the colon wall gets covered with excess collagen.

The study

In this study, the scientists from the UT Southwestern medical centre studied the role of glucose and fructose in the development of colitis in two types of mice; wild type mice and IL-10-deficient mice (IL-10ˆ'/ˆ').

IL-10-deficient mice (Interleukin-10-deficient mice) are used for testing colitis and other inflammatory processes.

The scientists fed these mice a solution of water mixed with 10 percent of different dietary sugars such as glucose, fructose and sucrose for seven days.

Then the scientists used gene-sequencing techniques to identify the prevalence and types of bacteria in the large intestines of mice before and after they were given the sugar solution.

Results of the study

After seven days of sugar treatment, the scientists found significant changes in the microbiota present inside the gut. Mice who were fed with glucose solutions showed maximum changes in the microbes present in the gut.

It was found that the wild-type mice who were fed 10 percent of glucose (dextran sulfate sodium) in drinking water or glucose-rich diet presented with severe colitis. Similarly, more detrimental colitis was seen in IL-10-deficient mice who were given the high-glucose diet compared to the IL-10-deficient mice who were not given glucose solutions.

The scientists further found that when the mice were given high glucose or fructose for a short term, no inflammatory response was observed but the gut microbiota changed significantly.

It was seen that there was an increase in the number of Akkermansia muciniphila and Bacteroides fragilis, which are considered to be mucus-degrading bacteria. Furthermore, there was prominent erosion of the mucous lining in the gut of both glucose-fed wild-type and IL-10-deficient mice because of increased bacteria-derived mucolytic enzymes (enzymes that break down the mucous lining).

However, it was noticed that colitis was not observed in the mice who were treated with antibiotics or were given a germ-free environment.

In order to study the changes in the gut microbiota, the non-sugar treated mice were fed with the faeces of sugar-fed mice. Surprisingly, these non-sugar treated mice developed worse colitis.


With this study, scientists concluded that all three simple sugars can alter the composition of gut microbiota and lead to inflammation inside the intestine, eventually resulting in colitis. They further concluded that glucose-induced colitis can also be transmitted from the intestinal microbiota of the affected animals.

For more information, read our article on Inflammatory Bowel Disease.

Health articles in Firstpost are written by, India's first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health.

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