Candy Treats are Not Nice:
They create a vicious Cycle in the Microbiome and more.
R.H. Bennett Ph.D.
Applied Life Sciences LLC
We shoppers can always tell when there is a holiday coming soon. Entire racks and shelves teem with chocolate bunnies or huge red candy hearts on a stick or one pound boxes of caramel confections. The message is clear on this holiday if you love someone, buy this, they will love you for it.
However, all this “love” no matter what color or what shape is not much more than sugar-coated emotion. This slug of sugars is a bit like eating a pound of undercooked red beans. It causes an explosion of our microbiome.
We eat about 22.9 teaspoons of sugar every day (1). At holiday time that intake more than doubles. Table sugar is sucrose; it is comprised of one part glucose and one part fructose.
A very significant part of sugars in foods is added fructose manufactured from cornstarch. High Fructose Corn Syrup HFCS) is subsidized to be cheaper than cane sugar (sucrose). Moreover, there is a 10% tariff on imported cane sugar (2). In other words, we are funding the cheap fructose that is poisoning us. Conveniently, Fructose is about 1.8 times sweeter than sucrose, and that helps drive the sugar addiction[ (3). More on this later.
“Fructose is like alcohol without the buzz," so states pediatric endocrinologist, Dr. Robert Lustig. He attributes the child obesity epidemic to the hidden fructose in the diet (4).
The fructose effect on the gut microbiome is another story. Corn syrup sugar, fructose now comprises about half of the commercial sugar consumed and thus 75% of the daily intake of sugars. Recall that sucrose is 50% fructose. Therefore at holiday candy time, the love we offer to our kids and others is about 35 teaspoons of the fructose poison each festive day.
Upon digestion of sucrose, an enzyme cleaves the two sugars apart, and much of it gets absorbed and transported to the liver. In high sugar foods, some sugars make it to the large intestine and become energy food for bacteria and promote individual members of the microbiome at the expense of others. Any fructose as HFCS or from sucrose that is not absorbed will pass into the colon.
Once sugar gets to the colon, it is a sword with two edges. One edge feeds specific microbes, and they flourish, and the ecosystem becomes unbalanced and somewhat dysfunctional. This is called dysbiosis. It has a multitude of disruptive influences. One is the unbalancing of the immune response that tips the scale toward inflammation and allergic-type reactions. The other edge is one that directly impacts the tight junctions on the colon lining cells and promotes a "leaky gut." This leakage is also very inflammatory, and its target is the liver. The cascade of effects includes reducing the function of insulin and the elevation of blood glucose, the cardinal signs of impending diabetes. As this type of toxic insult continues obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes become likely.
Two things can significantly perturb the gut microbiome. One is antibiotics. Sometimes they are necessary to treat certain infections. The problem is they are overprescribed to a fault. The second and by far and away the more profound disrupter is fructose. Yes, there is some fructose in fruits and vegetables, but that contribution is trivial compared to the sugar in a cupcake or a Mars Bar.
Here comes the vicious cycle
Once the dysbiosis now favors the sugar-loving microbes, bacterial products called metabolites travel to the liver and onward to the brain. Once there they target an appetite control center that generates sugar cravings. The craving alters behavior and the candy adorning the holiday fair become irresistible and the cycle continues (3). If this cycle is sustained for extended periods, even intermittently, the path toward metabolic disease unveils like a paved highway of addiction.
There is media controversy about the ill effects of sugar on health and the microbiome. One website writes, “What role do dietary sugars play in the health of the microbiome? It states that simple sugars are not prebiotics and do not reach the colon as they are digested completely. It makes no mention of the science about how sugars impact the microbiome and health (4). The name on the website reveals its purpose.
There can be no controversy when it comes to the scientific data. It reveals that the microbiome makeup is dependent on the diet. That is to say, that microbes that they can utilize specific dietary components will thrive and others will not. Research evaluating the microbiomes of indigenous African children versus children in European Union (EU) demonstrates distinct differences among the major classifications of gut bacteria (7). One fundamental difference is the African children only source of sugar was that found in the plant foods they consumed. The EU children consumed a Western Diet rich in refined sugars.
In the pie charts, notice the blue and red lines around the outside of the chart. On the right chart EU, the red line shows the extent of the major bacteria group or phyla, Firmicutes. The EU microbiome was heavily dominated by these sugar fermenting bacteria such as the Lactobacillus. The significance is their overwhelming predominance. On the BF chart the Firmicutes are minor members of the microbiome. This vividly illustrates how a dietary component can shape the nature of the gut microbiome. Try to keep this insight in mind next time “LOVE” takes the form of a dozen donuts.
The point of this Sugar Story is that the quantity of sugar in our diet is ABNORMAL. It creates an abnormal microbiome that has dangerous health influences that are abnormal. As a country, we have policies that promote the sale of this abnormal substance and this business does great harm to people. And sadly this abnormally abundant dietary substance is as every bit as addictive and perhaps more so than narcotics. Given this situation, sugar sounds more like an illegal drug promoted by a cartel called the sugar industry and an industry supported by our tax money.
The best advice for coping with the vast racks and shelves of holiday treats and the like is to "JUST SAY NO."
Say Yes to Rejuvenation and Restoration of the Microbiome
The noted observation that diet shapes the microbiome can work to our healthful advantage too. Just as the diet of the African children shaped their microbiome, we can reshape ours as well. Maybe some readers are thinking yes, probiotics and others are saying Probiotic H.A.T.S. That is probiotics that are Human-Adapted, Targeted Symbiotics. These are strains that work together naturally in humans to accomplish specific tasks.
Combine HATS probiotics with specific prebiotics or with a diet rich in soluble fiber, and rejuvenation synergy occurs. Do this with a high fiber low carbohydrate diet and the research to date indicates that microbiome health can be restored in just a few weeks.
This is the kind of love we need.
1. Anderson, Shannon. "The Domestic Causes and International Consequences of the US Government’s Sugar Price Support Programs." Pepperdine Policy Review 2.1 (2009): 6.
2. Ahmed, Serge H., Karine Guillem, and Youna Vandaele. "Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit." Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition & Metabolic Care 16.4 (2013): 434-439.
5. Alcock, Joe, Carlo C. Maley, and C. Aktipis. "Is eating behavior manipulated by the gastrointestinal microbiota? Evolutionary pressures and potential mechanisms." Bioessays36.10 (2014): 940-949.
7. De Filippo, Carlotta, et al. "Impact of diet in shaping gut microbiota revealed by a comparative study in children from Europe and rural Africa." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107.33 (2010): 14691-14696.