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UT-Southwestern Study Suggests High Sugar Consumption May Be Linked To Colitis

Orange-colored soft drink is poured from a bottle into a glass.
Added sugars from foods and beverages contribute to high levels of sugar found in western diets that the UT study suggests may lead to colitis,

About 3 million people in the U.S. suffer from this form of inflammatory bowel disease. A recent study of mice suggests colitis may be linked to the amount of sugar and added sugars in food and beverages.

KERA’s Sam Baker talked about the study with Hasan Zaki, Ph.D. He's an Assistant Professor in UT-Southwestern Medical Center’s Department of Pathology.


The Reason For The Study

It is commonly viewed that the Western diet — high-sugar and high-fat — is a trigger for colitis, but there isn’t any experimental evidence. That's how we started this study: To understand the link between the Western food, particularly the high-sugar food, and colitis.

How Can High Sugar Consumption Lead To Colitis

So that's the question that we try to address in our study. We fed mice with 10% sugar — for example, glucose, fructose and sucrose for seven days — because we know most of the sob genes contain 10 to 15% sugar.

Then we induced colitis in those mice with a chemical, and we noticed that the mice treated with sugar developed severe colitis compared to untreated mice. We also fed another group of mice which were genetically susceptible to colitis.

The data from this suggests if you take high sugar in your diet it may actually induce colitis, or it may intensify if you already have colitis in your gut.

In our study, we basically found that only consuming high-sugar alters your gut microbiota. The bad bacteria is enhanced in our gut. There is a mucus layer that protects our intestinal cells and tissue from the bacteria that lives inside our gut. This increased growth of some bad bacteria degrades this mucus layer, and that actually helps to penetrate or invade those bacteria inside the intestinal tissue and cause infection and inflammation.

What The Study On Mice Means For People

On average, American people take more than 100 grams – 125, something like that, per day. It is recommended the amount of sugar should not be more than 10 or 25 grams per day maximum. So that means we are actually taking more than five to 10 times the sugar recommended by the World Health Organization. And that's what you see in the Western country — increased incidents of non-communicable disease, like obesity, diabetes, heart disease — all are linked with sugar.

All the natural food has sugar, so those sugars are not that bad. But with a Western diet, everything contains added sugar, especially the high fructose corn syrup, which is composed of glucose and fructose. In our study, we tried to understand what is the role of this glucose and fructose in our gut as well as in our health.

As We Approach The Holidays

We cannot avoid high-sugar food. This is part of our life, but we have to be careful. We have to limit the amount of sugar we take. You just have to monitor your diet, what kind of food you're taking, and calculate the amount of sugar you're taking. And then you have to just balance.


High Sugar Diet and Colitis Study


Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.