Sugar as an IBS Trigger Food
Giving up sugar can seem tremendously difficult to anyone, including people with IBS, but you should consider the effect that sugar may be having on your GI system.
Refined sugar and IBS
SIBO (small intestine bacteria overgrowth) may be a newly found cause of IBS. SIBO’s role in IBS is still being researched. In the medical worlds, the current thinking is that the SIBO may be the culprit for a portion of IBS patients. For those who have SIBO, the bacteria in the small intestine set upon carbohydrates, resulting in symptoms of gas, bloating, and diarrhea.
However, according to the clinical research of Dr. Heiko Santelmann, refined sugar can also stimulate the growth of yeast in the intestines, which leads to symptoms of IBS. Candida is a yeast that is naturally present in the human body.
Excessive sugar in your diet (among other causes) can cause the yeast to multiply, leading to a number of health problems, from vaginal yeast infections to severe fatigue. And these yeast, when present in abnormally high numbers, can cause strong cravings for sweet, starchy foods, thus perpetuating the problem.
Why eat sugar-free?
Sugar is a simple carbohydrate found naturally in many foods, including fruits and grains. If the only sugar you consumed were in natural, whole foods, your intestines would be able to cope.
But the average American diet is full of refined, nutrient-depleted foods and contains an average of 20 teaspoons of added, refined sugar every day. That’s twice the amount recommended by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), which specifies 10 teaspoons, and four times the maximum Carolyn personally recommends to her patients.
So what’s wrong with refined sugar? Many things.
Refined sugar compromises immune function. Two cans of soda, which contain 24 teaspoons of sugar total, reduce the efficiency of white blood cells by 92 percent — an effect that lasts up to five hours, according to Kenneth Bock, M.D., an expert in nutritional and environmental health.
Refined sugar overworks the pancreas and adrenal glands as they struggle to keep the blood sugar levels in balance. When you eat sugar, it’s quickly absorbed into your bloodstream in the form of glucose. This speedy absorption puts your pancreas into overdrive making insulin (which carries glucose to your cells to be used for energy) to normalize blood sugar levels.
But the rapid release of insulin causes a sudden drop in blood sugar. In reaction to the falling blood sugar, excess adrenal cortisone is stimulated to raise blood sugar back to normal. A constantly high intake of simple dietary sugar keeps this roller coaster going and eventually overworks or “burns out” normal pancreas and adrenal function, leading to abnormal serotonin levels in the intestines, early menopause, adult-onset diabetes, hypoglycemia, and chronic fatigue.
Processing sugarcane, or any whole food, strips it of most if not all of its nutritional value; the refining process of sugar removes between 83 and 98 percent of its chromium, manganese, cobalt, copper, zinc, and magnesium. Ironically, the end product, refined sugar, is what you consume, and the nutritious residues are discarded and generally fed to cattle.
Because refined sugar is devoid of nutrients, the body must actually draw from its nutrient reserves to metabolize it. When these storehouses are depleted, the body becomes unable to properly metabolize fatty acids and cholesterol, leading to higher cholesterol and triglyceride levels.
Drawing on the body’s nutrient reserves can also lead to chronic mineral deficits, especially in magnesium (a mineral required for more than 300 different enzyme activities) and chromium (a trace element that regulates hormones such as insulin); magnesium and chromium deficiencies put you at risk for dozens of diseases, including constipation, depression, attention deficit disorder, and asthma.
Take the sugar challenge (not for diabetics)
Eliminating refined sugar for two weeks hones your skills at reading food labels and hopefully introduces you to your kitchen to prepare food from scratch (because refined sugar is everywhere in prefab food)! For example, ketchup contains more sugar than it does tomatoes.
Do the experiment of avoiding sugar yourself for one or two weeks, and then eat candy all day and see how you react. You can learn a lot about your body this way. Remember that you should honestly record your symptoms in your food diary — even if you don’t want to admit to them.
Sugar substitutes and IBS
Sorbitol is a sugar alcohol that’s neither digested nor absorbed by the human gut. Intact, it reaches the large intestine, where it is acted upon by gut bacteria and yeast, encouraging them to overgrow. Gas, bloating, intestinal cramps, and diarrhea are the natural consequence.
Sorbitol is used as a sugar substitute in many confections — even those in the health food section. However, sorbitol causes bloating, flatulence and diarrhea — even at only 2 teaspoons consumed a day. If you have a magnifying glass when you read labels, you can sometimes spot the warning “Excess consumption can have a laxative effect.”
Sorbitol is found naturally in prunes and pears, explaining why these fruits have a laxative effect. It’s even the principle ingredient of an OTC laxative called Sorbilax. Chronic chewing of sorbitol-laced gum can cause chronic diarrhea. Similar diarrhea label warnings should be on products containing mannitol, maltitol, and xylitol.
If you decide to avoid sugar in all its forms, be aware that you’re changing how you feed your intestinal yeast. Without sugar, yeast can die off in large numbers, and you may experience some symptoms as a result. Yeast can produce up to 178 different toxins that are normally released as they die.
These toxins may cross the intestinal wall into the bloodstream and cause reactions that can feel like allergic reactions. When greater numbers of yeast die off, you may feel a little more tired, have a coated tongue, or even develop a skin rash.