Your Sweet Tooth Adversely Impacts Gut and Brain Health

By Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

June 8, 2020

Your Sweet Tooth Adversely Impacts Gut and Brain Health
Sugar. Your taste buds and brain go crazy for sugar just thinking about it. When it hits your mouth, a rush of pleasure goes with it. In times of stress, sugar-laden foods are the go-to comfort food for so many individuals. During these uncertain times with high stress levels, the urge to reach for something sweet runs high. Cooking shows feature decadent pastries and mouth-watering treats that trigger these deep urges even further. Walking through the bakery aisle in the grocery store is enormously tempting. Perhaps you have a life-long sweet tooth. There is no doubt that sugar intake provides a pleasurable sensation, but high consumption comes with a cost.

Pure, White and Deadly

In the 1970’s, British physiologist and nutritionist, John Yudkin wrote a book called Pure, White and Deadly exposing adverse effects on health from sugar. It gained him international reputation but also brought heavy criticism from peers like Ancel Keys who believed that saturated fats rather than sugar caused obesity, heart problems, and diabetes.

Science and medicine downplayed the effect of sugar and followed the path of saturated fats as the cause of disease for decades. Many have now realized that excess sugar consumption is a massive factor more so than saturated fats as the cause for obesity and the top leading causes of death.

High sugar diets create enormous unhealthy changes to your physiology, resulting in loss of productivity and the loss of health, in addition to strain on health care systems. Recent research provides further insight on how high sugar intake even for 1-3 days affects the gut-brain connection and ultimately your whole body.

High Sugar Diet Used in Research to Incite Disease

In research, diets high in sugar or high in sugar and fat are used to incite disease in lab animals. This is to study the current health trends and effects related with obesity, blood sugar disorders, heart problems, behavioral and mood problems, dental cariescavities, bone loss, malignancy, and numerous other concerns.

Research focused originally foremost on Western diet affects on insulin and pancreas function, blood sugar regulation, and in recent decades on insulin and leptin resistance, fatty liver congestion, and metabolic inflammation etc. Current focus now includes acute and chronic effects of high sugar intake into the gut-brain connection.

The Impact of Sugar on Your Brain-Gut Health

High sugar diets like the Western diet are directly linked to changes in your brain and gut. Research demonstrates that high sugar diets cause marked disruption to your gut flora, which induces gut dysbiosis, brain inflammation, and increased levels of inflammation in general throughout the body.

Perhaps most striking is the research that shows that high sugar consumption over just a few hours changes your gut flora and in turn affects the gut-brain connection. Research showed that a diet rich in simple sugars such as sucrose “causes rapid microbiota remodeling and metabolic dysfunction”.

Study results showed that within a mere 24-72 hours of ingesting high amounts of sugar, gut flora undergoes unhealthy dramatic changes leading to dysbiosis or overabundance of non-beneficial bacteria. If high simple sugar consumption chronically occurs, your gut flora change further to a preponderance of unhealthy, metabolic syndrome, obesity promoting flora.

High Sugar Gut-Brain Stress Connection Precedes Broken Metabolism

The adverse high sugar effect goes beyond the changes to your gut flora. A direct connection exists between your brain and gut via the vagus nerve or cranial nerve 10. Sugar stressed flora send their own stress signals of inflammation via the vagus nerve to your hypothalamus and surrounding microglial cells in your brain.

The gut-brain sugar stress effect leads to brain inflammation and ultimately provokes inflammation throughout your body. When the high sugar gut-brain stress inflammation process goes on for years, then metabolic breakdown occurs with the consequences of obesity, metabolic syndrome, fatty liver congestion, and cardiovascular stress, etc. .

Simply put, gut changes happen first in response to high sugar intake which talks directly to your brain. Your brain gets inflamed and sends inflammatory signals through the rest of the body within hours or perhaps less for some individuals. Contrast this rapid gut-brain response to how insulin and leptin resistance, obesity, cardiovascular effects, etc manifest over the course of months and years. The acute sprain/strain happens to the gut and brain. If it continues, it becomes a chronic sprain/strain that affects your metabolism.

Think about your experience after consuming a couple cans of soda, a big piece of birthday cake, or pitcher of sweet tea loaded with added simple sugar. How did your gut feel? How about your mood, mental clarity and energy? Did you have a headache? Did you feel like you had been “hit by a Mack truck” or attributed it to “simply getting older” the next day?

High Sugar Diet Leads to Loss of Muscle Mass

In addition to the physical changes in gut flora and nervous system, animal studies show that high sugar diets/Western diet after just 3 days leads to loss of muscle mass, inflammation in muscles, and an infiltration of fat cells into muscles. Chronic intake of a high fat/high sugar diet led to further obesity concerns, a greater level of inflammation developed, increased muscle loss and poor tissue repair which led to scarred, fibrotic muscle tissue.

You may experience these effects as more fatigue, weakness, loss of endurance, increased pain, difficulty with movement and mobility, worsening metabolic management and cardio-respiratory health, and more stress on joints. It becomes a horrible vicious downward cycle for many individuals, unless change or intervention occurs.

Sucrose Sources

High sucrose intake compared to other types of sugar appears to be the most problematic for the link between brain-gut inflammation and obesity. Sucrose is a common sugar found in plants. It is composed of two monosaccharides – glucose and fructose.

Sugar beets and sugar cane are the most common sources of sucrose which are then refined or processed into table sugar. Sucrose is also found in coconut sugar, granulated sugar, powdered sugar, brown sugar, raw or turbinado sugar, molasses, sucanat, caramel, cane juice, maple syrup and demerara icing.

Sucrose enters the diet as table sugar added to foods when cooking or baking. It is added to processed foods such as sweetened fruit juices and drinks, sweet teas, coffee, powdered beverages, sweetened or flavored milks and milk alternatives, sodas, Gatorade, canned foods, baby foods, candy, cereals, coleslaw, mayonnaise, hot dogs, ketchup and other condiments, jams, jellies, prepared meats, nut butters, spaghetti sauces, pudding, sweetened condensed milks (dairy, coconut, etc), sweetened yogurts, ice cream, granola bars, and other processed foods. Check your food labels.

Sucrose may be added to prescription or over the counter medications, e.g. cough drops, cough syrup, liquid or syrup medications and even liquid vitamins.

Sucrose is also naturally found in maple syrup, molasses, and some fruits such as apricots, apples, bananas, cantaloupe, clementines, dates, grapefruit, honeydew, mango, oranges, peaches, pineapple, and raisins. Some vegetables contain sucrose such as carrots, green peas, dried and baked beans, lentils, sweet pickles, soybeans, beets, sweet potatoes, potatoes, butternut squash, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas, onions, and more.

Fruits, vegetables, and other unprocessed foods that naturally contain sucrose are not bad in and of themselves for most individuals. Whole foods that contain sucrose also contain other nutrients and fibers. Consumption of them with proteins, good fats, and complex whole grains in a healthy balanced diet does not pose the same risk as a diet high in added simple sugars. If your diet has been trending towards higher intakes of simple sugar from processed foods or added sugars, then you must change this trend.

Some individuals cannot digest sucrose because they lack a certain enzyme to break it down. This creates other health concerns unrelated to this article’s discussion.

Sugar Intake Affects Addiction Risk in the Next Generation

Sugar is addictive - even more so than cocaine. Ask anyone who has tried to give up sugar and they will say it is one of the most difficult things they have ever done. The addictive effects of sugar can even be passed to the next generation affecting their neurological susceptibility to addiction. Recent animal studies show that if the mother’s diet was high in sugar during pregnancy, her offspring are more likely to seek out addictive behaviors like cocaine.

Sugar Consumption

Current statistics show that although the trend for sugar intake has declined slightly over the last few years, the “US population still consumes more than 300% of the recommended daily amount of added sugar”. American adults consume about 77 grams of sugar per day on average. Children consume about 81 grams per day.

The CDC recommends that you consume no more than 10 percent or 200 calories per day of added sugar in a 2000 calorie diet. The American Heart Association recommends that men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day. For women, the recommendation is no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) per day of added sugar. Children should have less. Four grams of sugar equates to one teaspoon. One can of soda has about 32 grams of added sugar. I encourage you to strive for even less added sugar intake. How are you doing?

Support for Sugar Cravings

In addition to being mindful and intentional about healthy dietary choices, you can use nutrients to help manage sugar cravings. Our LeptiSlim supplement contains chromium, vanadium, inula racemosa, and Gymnema sylvestre to are used to help reduce the desire for sweets and sweet tasting foods. The latter two herbal nutrients are known as “sugar-busters” as they help reduce sugar cravings.

Healthy oils like Pine Nut Oil and Leptinal aid your brain with feeling satisfied, reduce stress eating, and provide support for inflammation management. Quality protein, high fiber, and adequate water intake can also make a substantial impact against craving sugar. Even B vitamins and magnesium can be helpful.

Support your gut flora and lining to help fortify your gastrointestinal tract against the challenges of sugar consumption. Beneficial probiotics and dietary fiber are fundamental to gut health. Other more in-depth support for imbalanced gut flora may include Noni, Monolaurin/Lauricidin, Super Immune Booster, and Oregano Oil. Consider the antioxidants Curcumin and Quercetin to aid with gut-brain and immune health.

You Are What Your Gut Flora Eats

“You are what you eat” is a common saying. It is also what your gut flora are exposed to and digest. Trillions of microbes exist in your gut, which outnumber the rest of your body cells. If you feed your gut flora high amounts of sugar, it wreaks havoc on them and the ultimately the rest of you. Hopefully, this information has also led to you to think about what “your gut flora eat”.

Be mindful and intentional about your daily choices. That burst of pleasure may feel like it was the right thing to do at the moment, but think about the effects that it has on your body even after a few days of splurging or with decades of excess sugar intake. Is your daily added sugar intake less than 25-36 grams per day? How about your child’s intake? If not, what are you going to do about it? Now’s the time to make a change.

Additional Resources

Sugar, Not Salt, Harms Bones and Strips Out Minerals

Insulin, Leptin, and Blood Sugar – Why Diabetic Medication Fails 

Blood Sugar Affects Heart Rhythm

New Research Links Cancer to Sugar Intake

Gut Motility: Fundamentals to Master for Metabolism, Weight Management, and Gut Health  

How to Eat for Blood Sugar Health

Combat Energy Crashes After Eating

Higher Blood Sugar Blinds Immune System  

This is Your Brain on Pop 

Acetyl-L-Carnitine for Brain Health, Blood Sugar, Fertility, and More

Saturated Fat Myth – Debunked Again

Food Addiction and Stress Eating Mechanism Identified

Share this content



Optimize cognitive performance!