Study finds direct link between natural sweetener and gut inflammation

If you suffer from an inflammatory bowel disease like Crohn's disease, there's a good chance that eating a modern Western diet is making it considerably worse. The latest study on this topic comes from Stony Brook University, which found that eating fructose may cause intestinal inflammation to worsen. Fructose, of course, is commonly used as a sweetening agent, particularly in the US, a practice that has been heavily criticized from a public health standpoint for years.

Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) is a catch-all term for a variety of diseases that involve frequent or chronic inflammation in the gastrointestinal tract. Crohn's disease is perhaps the best known of the IBDs due to its particularly debilitating nature. Both genetics and one's immune system can play roles in the development of IBD, but a growing number of studies have found that the modern Western diet may be fueling the condition.

Fructose, a natural sweetener also sometimes referred to as 'fruit sugar,' is often used in the place of cane sugar and refined sugar in processed foods. High-fructose corn syrup, for example, is commonly used in the United States and is found in a huge variety of products, making it difficult to avoid unless you cook your foods from scratch. This substance has been linked to a number of potential health issues, the most recent being a worsening of gut inflammation.

The newly published study involved three mouse models for studying IBD, including one fed large quantities of fructose. In that group, the researchers report that colon inflammation worsened and that a number of changes occurred in gut bacteria located in the colon, including ones involving metabolism and type. The changes in gut bacteria were casually linked to the worsening symptoms in the IBD group.

The findings suggest that IBD sufferers should consider eliminating — or drastically reducing — the amount of fructose in their diet. Additional research is necessary to determine whether such a diet change early on in the disease can help protect against colon cancer, as those who suffer from IBD face greater cancer risk as a result.