Study warns most common Western diet damages gut and fuels inflammation

A new study warns that the most common type of Western diet is damaging guts and fueling inflammation, leaving many people with a common, chronic, and particularly painful intestinal condition. The disease is seen in the United States and other Western countries, underscoring the need for a dietary overhaul to protect public health.

One particular type of chronic condition, Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), comes in many varieties, one of which is the relatively common disease called colitis. Those afflicted with this condition suffer from inflammation of the colon's inner lining, which causes stomach pain. In cases of ulcerative colitis, which is a chronic condition, one may face increased cancer risk and other issues.

Diet driving disease

There are multiple potential colitis causes, including everything from infection to autoimmune issues. According to a new study from UT Southwestern Medical Center, a typical Western diet high in sugar is one of those causes, fueling inflammation that damages the gut and leaves one with persistent health problems.

One of the big mysteries behind colitis is how the number of cases has skyrocketed, mostly in the Western world, over the past couple of decades — so much so that doctors say they're even seeing colitis cases in children who historically weren't afflicted with this condition.

Sugar's role

The fact that colitis is much more common in Western countries led researchers to investigate diet as a potential cause. The results are in line with past studies on high-sugar diets and their link to health issues: sugar, including sucrose, fructose, and glucose, was found to cause gut bacteria changes and trigger particularly severe colitis symptoms in mice predisposed to the disease.

Particularly, the gut bacteria changes resulted in a decrease in 'good' bacteria and an increase in the 'bad' bacteria that degrade the gut's protective mucus lining. The thinning of this mucus layer was noted in the large intestine, putting gut bacteria closer to the epithelial layer — a process that, when the layer is breached, triggers the intestinal inflammation behind IBD.

The researchers plan to explore whether high-sugar diets can also cause other chronic health issues related to inflammation.