To counter chronic inflammation of the colon, which can cause conditions like colitis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, watch what you eat! Indeed, a diet rich in sugars, such as those contained in sugary drinks, candies and sweets, can accelerate the progression of these inflammations, damaging the intestinal wall and worsening symptoms. This emerges from a very recent scientific research published in the journal Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology by a team of American scientists from the University of Pittsburgh (Burr et al, Cell. Mol. Gastroenterol. Hepatol, 2023).
A new colon every 5 days
Our colon is an incredible mechanism. It is exposed to microorganisms, foods and toxins every day. To protect itself and the entire body, the colon is equipped with a barrier made up of endothelial cells, which cause pathogens to be blocked and expelled, without entering the bloodstream. Precisely because of the delicacy of this task, the intestinal barrier is continuously renewed. In fact, we have a new colon every 3-5 days. The wonder that allows all of this is found in particular formations distributed along the intestinal mucosa, called Lieberkühn's crypts. These are glands that host, at the bottom, stem cells that divide and allow the formation of new endothelial cells, which gradually ascend the crypt and form the lining of the colon, to then be eliminated within a few days. It is clear that, in case of inflammation and intestinal damage, this renewal operation appears to be of particular importance.
More and more people affected by inflammation of the colon
The intestine can be affected by inflammation that takes on a chronic nature, as in the case of colitis, ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease. The incidence of these diseases is growing rapidly and it does so above all in the most industrialized areas, characterized by a sedentary lifestyle and an unbalanced diet, rich in refined foods and sugars. Well, as we will see by analyzing the results of the American study, it is sugar that is responsible for the worsening and acceleration of the progression of chronic intestinal inflammation. But let's try to understand better.
Sugar is the enemy of the colon, the study
The first part of the research was carried out in the laboratory on a population of mice. One part of the mice was fed a standard diet, while the other part ate a diet high in sugar.
Then, the mice were given a substance capable of mimicking chronic intestinal inflammation. After two weeks the mice fed according to a standard diet did not show particular problems while the other mice, those that had been fed a diet rich in sugars, had a colon so damaged that it put their survival at risk. In some cases the intestinal barrier had completely disappeared and the colon was infested with immune cells. What was observed was independent of the composition of the intestinal microbiota. The second part of the research involved small, miniature human intestines grown in a laboratory. When exposed to sugar, these intestines slowed down their growth showing that sugar slows stem cell division.
The explanation of what was observed
What the scientists have observed is that sugar slows down the division of stem cells and therefore the very important replacement of endothelial cells, even more essential in the presence of chronic inflammation. In fact, chronic inflammation damages the intestinal mucosa which must be repaired by drawing on the incredible resources of our colon. However, as we have seen, when we eat too much sugar the colon loses its ability to regenerate and the damage progresses.
Beware of sugars! But that doesn't mean excluding fruit from your diet. In fact, fruit contains sugars but these are sugars closely tied up in the cells of the fruit. These cells take a long time to digest and then release the sugars. Instead, a sugary drink provides available sugars the instant they reach the colon, just as candy and other sweets do. And it's easy to drink a lot of these drinks or eat a lot of candy. But now we know that it is important to limit the consumption of these foods, especially if we suffer from chronic intestinal inflammation. Though this advice applies to everyone as sugar hampers our colon's ability to renew and repair damages.