Researchers warn weekend junk food binges can trigger severe IBD

Many people remain diligent about protecting their health during the week, making sure to exercise daily and eat healthy foods, only to spend the weekend relaxing and eating what they crave. That can be risky, according to a new study, if the indulgences include eating a bunch of sugar-filled junk foods. Researchers with the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry found that it only takes a couple of days of binging on sugar to potentially trigger severe inflammatory bowel disease symptoms.

Inflammatory bowel disease, more commonly called IBD, generally refers to one of two diseases: Ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, both of which involve inflammation in the digestive tract. Both conditions are difficult to manage and can be severe, disrupting one's life and potentially causing long-term health issues.

Diet is believed to play a major role in the severity of the diseases, though diet modification has better results for some people than others. At the heart of the matter may be the effect diet has on gut bacteria and the consequent effect different strains of gut bacteria have on inflammation and one's overall health.

According to the new study, a short term spike in the amount of sugar someone eats may increase the risk of IBD. The findings are based on the effects observed in mice, which were found to experience a boost in the risk of chemically-induced colitis as well as 'severe' IBD symptoms after eating a high-sugar diet for only two days.

One's gut is full of 'good' bacteria, which is fueled by high-fiber foods and generally healthy, balanced diets. Eating large amounts of sugar — especially as part of low-fiber diets — has a harsh effect on gut bacteria, causing the 'bad' strains like E. coli to flourish. These strains promote inflammation and other health consequences, including things like depression and anxiety.

When mice were fed a high-sugar diet, the researchers found that they experienced a 'defective immune response' and had greater damage to their intestinal tissue. However, when given short-chain fatty acids — the kind produced by good gut bacteria — the issues were 'alleviated,' highlighting a potential future treatment for IBD.