When you think of how sugar impacts your life, you typically associate weight gain or an overall unhealthy lifestyle. Aside from weight gain, a high-sugar diet contributes to many chronic and autoimmune conditions. Unfortunately, this dietary villain has slipped into virtually every product on your grocery store shelves.
Personally, I no longer consume processed sugar. I notice that after eating something sweet or consuming a sugary drink, my joints ache, I feel sluggish, and often experience a headache. My gut also seems to be disturbed the next day. If you feel these symptoms or are experiencing Leaky Gut, Candida overgrowth or SIBO—sugar may be the culprit.
Cutting out sweets may seem nearly impossible, but it’s easier than you think. In this article, you’ll learn how to revive your gut and replace your sweet tooth cravings with nutritionally beneficial substitutes. First, let’s dive into the connection between sugar and gut inflammation.
The Connection Between Sugar and Inflammation
High sugar intake has long been linked to obesity, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and type 2 diabetes. The impact of sugar consumption on inflammation was previously unknown until recently. Through new studies, researchers have found an association between excessive sugar intake and the onset of chronic inflammation and autoimmune diseases.1
When you eat sugar, your body produces cytokines. Cytokines are most known for regulating inflammation in your body. They’re proteins that function as chemical messengers telling your immune cells where to go and what to do, keeping your immune system in check. When experiencing a threat, your cells release cytokines to fight foreign invaders or repair tissues.2 One study found that high glucose intake promoted the production of proinflammatory cytokines.3
It’s no secret that our standard Western diet—which consists of processed sugars and industrial oils—impacts your gut microbiota. Since sugar increases inflammation, this also changes your gut microbiome and can lead to SIBO and Candida overgrowth. Your intestinal wall also weakens, potentially leading to increased permeability and eventually leaky gut.4 Now that you understand the negative association between sugar and gut inflammation, let’s learn more about leaky gut syndrome.
Understanding Leaky Gut Syndrome
Think of your gut as a drawbridge. Your gut is naturally semi-permeable to let teeny-tiny boats (micronutrients) pass through your intestinal wall and into your bloodstream. External factors such as certain foods, infections, toxins, and stress, can break apart these tight junctions in your intestinal wall. This leaves the drawbridge open. Once this happens, you have a leaky gut.
What is Leaky Gut
Your gut uses projections called villi to limit the materials that are able to pass through your gut and into your bloodstream. Your blood then delivers this nourishment to all the cells in your body. When you’re dealing with a leaky gut, the tight junctions that hold your intestinal wall together become loose. Toxins, microbes, and undigested food particles that were never supposed to get through, escape into your bloodstream. Your immune system then flags these foreign invaders as pathogens and attacks them.
Causes of Leaky Gut
Leaky gut is a direct result of our modern lifestyle. We are regularly exposed to negative factors in our daily lives such as:
- Inflammatory or processed foods – Processed foods contain many ingredients that can lead to leaky gut—one such ingredient is gluten. Gluten causes the gut cells to release zonulin, a protein that can break apart the tight junctions of your intestinal lining.
- Gut infections – The most common infectious causes are Candida overgrowth, intestinal parasites, and SIBO, or small intestine bacterial overgrowth.
- Medications – Toxins come in the form of medications including NSAIDS (Motrin and Advil), steroids, antibiotics, and acid-reducing medications.
- Environment Toxins – Environmental toxins including mercury, pesticides, and BPA from plastics are also causal agents.
- Chronic stress – Stress can put pressure on you mentally and physically—if it remains elevated it can eventually lead to increased intestinal permeability.
Testing for Leaky Gut
One of the more accurate tests for leaky gut is the enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay test (ELISA). This tests the levels of zonulin in your blood, which gives a biomarker of how much intestinal permeability there is.
Another way to test for leaky gut is to determine your food sensitivity. The best way to discover your food sensitivities is to complete an elimination diet. An elimination diet is a short-term diet to pinpoint which foods are triggers or causing mysterious symptoms. This is the perfect time to eliminate sugar because of the inflammatory connection between sugar and gut health.
Can Too Much Sugar Cause Stomach Issues?
Added sugars, such as sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners, are actively detrimental to your overall gut health. Your gut has a delicate balance of both good and bad bacteria. When you consume too much sugar, it can alter your gut microbiota.This disruption may feed yeasts and bad bacteria, increasing your risk of gut conditions such as leaky gut, Candida overgrowth, and SIBO.
Furthermore, excess sugar increases intestinal permeability by breaking apart the tight junctions in your intestinal wall (or your drawbridge). Once this happens, your gut becomes leaky.
Health Implications of Leaky Gut
When your gut remains leaky, your immune system stays overactive. It continues to attack your tissues. This is called molecular mimicry. It’s yet another trigger for autoimmune disease.
In fact, leaky gut is the leading cause of autoimmunity. Once you have an autoimmune disease, treating your symptoms is important. If left untreated, your condition could progress, or worse– incubate the onset of another chronic illness.
Leaky gut syndrome has been linked to hormonal imbalances, joint pain, and autoimmune diseases. Some autoimmune diseases include rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, diabetes, fibromyalgia, anxiety, depression, eczema, and rosacea—just to name a few.
If your intestinal wall has been compromised, and you have leaky gut, you’ll likely experience the following symptoms:
- Digestive issues such as gas, bloating, diarrhea, or irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
- Food allergies or food intolerances
- Brain fog, difficulty concentrating, ADD, or ADHD
- Mood imbalances such as depression and anxiety
- Skin issues such as acne, rosacea, or eczema
- Seasonal allergies or asthma
- Hormonal imbalances such as irregular periods, PMS, or PCOS
- Diagnosis of an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, lupus, psoriasis, or celiac disease
- Diagnosis of chronic fatigue or fibromyalgia
Natural Alternatives to Sugar
Despite the bad news about sugar and gut health, plenty of other natural sweeteners satisfy your sweet tooth without contributing to inflammation. Some natural sweeteners even contain micronutrients that can add value to your diet. I recommend substituting with these natural sweeteners:
Blackstrap molasses provides iron, calcium, potassium, magnesium, vitamin B6, and selenium.
Coconut sugar is a natural sweetener that is lower on the glycemic index than regular sugar. Coconut sugar can be a good source of vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes including potassium, magnesium, and sodium. These keep your body’s fluid levels in balance and are important for a number of other functions as well.
Date sugar is one of the best all-natural AIP diet alternatives to sugar. It comes from finely ground, dried dates. With date sugar, you get all the benefits of whole dates, including fiber, tannins, flavonoids, vitamins and minerals.
Honey is an antioxidant-rich, whole-food, and autoimmune-friendly natural sweetener you can use instead of regular sugar. It’s a good source of vitamins and minerals, including B vitamins, calcium, copper, and amino acids. This makes a better alternative to artificial sweeteners or refined sugar.
Maple syrup is not just for pancakes and waffles. It’s an excellent AIP food swap for refined table sugar. This is one of the best natural sweeteners because it is full of B vitamins, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and potassium.
Another one of the best natural sweeteners for the AIP diet is monk fruit. It is another zero-calorie, all-natural sweetener that derives its sweetness from antioxidants in the fruit.
Unlike other sugar alternatives, stevia contains zero calories and does not impact your blood sugar levels. Its leaves are 300 times sweeter than sugar, so a little bit of this natural sweetener goes a long way! I recommend purchasing 100% organic stevia in powdered leaf or liquid extract form. Brands such as Truvia and Pure Via are not pure stevia and contain potentially harmful ingredients such as erythritol. You’ll find only pure, organic stevia in my Leaky Gut Revive® Strawberry Lemonade formula.
Repairing a Leaky Gut
If substituting sugar with alternative ingredients is not quite helping to reduce or eliminate symptoms, then my 4R Approach might be right for you. This protocol is a proven approach that I recommend to all of my patients who experience gut dysbiosis. I’ve highlighted the steps below, but they are outlined in much greater detail in my book, “The Autoimmune Solution.”
Get rid of everything that impacts your gut’s microbiome. This includes inflammatory foods such as gluten, dairy, corn, soy, and eggs, and toxic foods such as sugar, caffeine, and alcohol. You’ll also want to remove gut infections such as Candida overgrowth, SIBO, or parasites. For maximum healing support, add Gut Detox Pro™ to mop up the antigens that lead to dysbiosis.
Next, restore the essential ingredients for proper digestion and absorption that a poor diet, medications, chronic illness, or aging have depleted. Add digestive enzymes and hydrochloric acid to support optimal digestion and nutrient absorption with each meal.
Reintroducing beneficial bacteria to establish a healthy balance of good bacteria is critical. This is accomplished by taking a high-quality probiotic that contains beneficial bacteria such as the bifidobacteria and lactobacillus species. For daily maintenance, I recommend taking a daily probiotic with at least 30 billion units daily. To support maximum digestive health and immune function, I recommend taking 100 billion unit per day. If you have SIBO, I recommend taking a soil-based probiotic. I also recommend Prebiotic Fiber Complete™ to feed the healthy bacteria.
Providing the nutrients necessary to help the gut repair itself is essential. My most comprehensive weapon against leaky gut is Leaky Gut Revive®. This powerful gut-repairing formula contains ingredients such as l-glutamine, aloe, deglycyrrhizinated licorice, arabinogalactan, slippery elm and marshmallow root. With this formulation of ingredients, Leaky Gut Revive® nourishes and soothes your gut cells, restores your gut’s natural mucosal lining, and maximizes gut-mending fatty acid production. It also comes in a delicious strawberry lemonade flavor. I drink a glass of Leaky Gut Revive® Strawberry Lemonade every day.
How to Know When Your Leaky Gut is Repaired
Healing your gut is always the first step to reversing chronic illness and achieving optimal health. Once you complete my protocol to repair your gut, your symptoms (or a lack thereof) are the strongest indicators that your leaky gut is healing. Regularly assessing your symptoms is the best barometer for the health of your gut. If the following list below describes you, then you are on the right path. Remember, repair is a slow process. You may only begin to see a few symptoms subside, but do not get discouraged!
Digestive Issues Disappear
Having a leaky gut does not always mean you have digestive issues. However, for many people, gas, bloating, heartburn or acid reflux, and constipation are some of the first signs of leaky gut. If a gut infection played a role in your leaky gut, then this may apply to you specifically. If your symptoms of leaky gut start to slow down or diminish completely, this is a good sign your dedication is finally paying off!
Food Sensitivities Go Away
With leaky gut, you likely also have multiple food sensitivities. If you find yourself suddenly able to enjoy the foods that once gave you symptoms, then you are on the right track. You are healing if you consume these foods and no longer experience digestive issues, fatigue, headaches, brain fog, or mood issues. You will continue to be able to reintroduce healthy foods and add more variety to your diet. Remember, gluten and dairy should never be reintroduced because the goal is to keep your gut healed.
Skin Issues Clear Up
Most skin issues outward manifest an internal problem in the gut. If your skin issues subside, you are beginning to heal your leaky gut. This can include the remission of eczema, rosacea, dandruff, rashes, or even acne.
Autoimmune Labs Improve
If your labs have improved after you started healing your gut, this could be a sign that it’s working. Healing leaky gut often leads to improvement in your autoimmune lab markers. Some patients even see their antibodies go negative as one of the signs leaky gut is healing.
You Return to Your Optimal Self
A leaky gut negatively impacts your quality of life. The best way to tell if your leaky gut is healing is when your energy levels and vitality have returned. You may notice your mental clarity increase, mood improvement, and you’ve returned to your ideal weight. Essentially, you feel like your best self!
The Final Word on Sugar and Gut Health
Understanding the impact of toxic and inflammatory foods on your gut health is important, especially if you’re experiencing mystery digestive symptoms. Understanding the inflammatory connection between sugar and gut health is a great place to start.
In order to repair your gut, you’ll want to follow my 4R approach. You will learn which foods to avoid, such as sugar. Avoiding sugar may seem nearly impossible, but plenty of alternatives have added nutritional benefits. You can support repairing your gut lining and banish those sugar cravings with a glass of refreshing and sweet Leaky Gut Revive® Strawberry Lemonade.
- Excessive intake of sugar: An accomplice of inflammation. Xioa Ma et al.. Frontiers. 2022.
- Cytokines. Cleveland Clinic. Front Immunol. 2023.
- Effect of high glucose on cytokine production. Ronghua Hu et al.. Clin Immonu. 2018.
- Excessive intake of sugar: An accomplice of inflammation. Xioa Ma et al.. Front Immunol. 2022.