Sugar Blues: How It Wrecks Your Gut and Hormones

Sugar: it's everywhere! From baked goods to hidden sources in condiments, we consume a lot more than we realise. But this sweet treat can wreak havoc on our insides. Let's explore how sugar disrupts our gut health and hormones, wreaking havoc on our overall wellbeing.

Gut Gone Wrong:

  • Microbe Mayhem: Sugar feeds the "bad" bacteria in your gut, throwing your gut microbiome out of whack. This imbalance can lead to inflammation, digestive issues, and even chronic diseases.
  • Craving Cycle: The gut bacteria we feed influence our cravings! When we consume a lot of sugar, the "bad" bacteria that thrive on it can send signals to the brain, making us crave more sugar, creating a vicious cycle.
  • Diversity Decline: A balanced gut microbiome thrives on various dietary fibres. High-sugar diets tend to be low in fibre, which can starve the "good" bacteria and decrease the overall diversity of the microbiome. This decline in diversity can hurt overall health.
  • Leaky Gut: High sugar intake might contribute to a leaky gut, where the gut lining weakens, allowing unwanted substances into the bloodstream. This can trigger immune responses and further health problems.
  • Inflammation Nation: Sugar is like gasoline for inflammation, and chronic inflammation in the gut is linked to conditions like inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). Chronic inflammation, linked to high sugar intake, has been associated with mood disorders. It's thought that inflammation disrupts communication between the gut and the brain, impacting mood regulation.

Hormonal Havoc:

  • Insulin Issues: Diets overloaded with sugar can lead to insulin resistance, where your cells become deaf to insulin's message to absorb blood sugar. This can pave the way for type 2 diabetes. 
  • Hormone Harmony Disrupted: Sugar messes with hormones that regulate hunger and fullness, like leptin and ghrelin. This can lead to overeating and weight gain.
  • Cortisol Chaos: Sugar spikes can trigger the release of cortisol, the stress hormone. Chronically high cortisol levels are linked to weight gain, insulin resistance, and other health problems.
  • Estrogen Excess: Some studies suggest a link between high sugar intake and increased estrogen levels, which may affect hormonal balance in conditions like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).


Sugar's impact on mood and microbiome goes beyond just the initial sugar rush and crash. Here are some additional ways sugar can affect these aspects of our health:


  • Neurotransmitter Disruption: Our gut bacteria produce some of the brain chemicals that influence mood, like serotonin and dopamine. When sugar disrupts the gut microbiome, it can affect the production of these neurotransmitters, potentially leading to symptoms of anxiety, depression, and mood swings.
  • Blood Sugar Rollercoaster: Sugar highs can be followed by crashes in blood sugar levels, leading to fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating


The Artificial Sweetener Question Mark

Artificial sweeteners interact with our taste buds and body in a way that mimics sugar, but with some key differences that can be seen as "tricking" the body. Here's how:

  • Gut Grumbles: Some studies suggest artificial sweeteners may alter gut bacteria, but the long-term effects are unclear.
  • Hormonal Hiccups: Artificial sweeteners might affect insulin sensitivity and gut hormones that regulate appetite.
  • Sweetness Without Calories: Artificial sweeteners are many times sweeter than sugar, but they provide little to no calories. This sweetness triggers taste receptors on the tongue, sending a signal to the brain that something sweet is being consumed. However, the body doesn't receive the expected calorie intake that usually follows sweetness.
  • Incomplete Reward Pathway: Normally, when we eat sugar, the sweetness triggers a reward response in the brain, releasing dopamine (the feel-good hormone) and making us feel satisfied. Artificial sweeteners activate the sweetness receptors, but some research suggests they may not fully stimulate the reward pathway in the same way as sugar. This might lead to the body still craving the satisfaction of calorie-laden sweetness.
  • Potential for Increased Cravings: Because artificial sweeteners may not fully activate the reward pathway, some studies suggest they could lead to increased cravings for sugary foods. The body might be "searching" for the complete sweetness and calorie satisfaction that wasn't fulfilled by the artificial sweetener alone.
  • Impact on Gut Microbiome: There's emerging research suggesting artificial sweeteners might alter the composition of gut bacteria. The long-term effects of this change are unclear, but a disrupted microbiome could potentially impact how we process sugar and other nutrients.

The Bottom Line:

As a nutritional therapist, I see firsthand how sugar affects everyone differently. Moderation is crucial for gut health. A balanced diet that limits added sugars, particularly those found in processed foods and sugary drinks, is widely recommended. This can be achieved by focusing on whole foods and cooking more meals at home. It's important to note that eliminating all added sugars and artificial sweeteners completely may not be necessary or suitable for everyone.

At She’s Got Guts®, we offer courses and coaching that give you access to recipes and ideas for delicious snacks and meals that can be enjoyed without the need for added sweeteners. 

If you're concerned about sugar intake, I can help you develop a personalised plan to achieve your gut health goals.

For some ideas to get you started download these sugar-free recipe ideas



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