Have IBD? Limit Sugary Treats, Screen for Colon Cancer



Give yourself a gift this holiday season by eating healthy, nutritious meals–and scheduling a colon cancer screening.

Too many sugary snacks, drinks and desserts can cause stomach pain and tooth decay. Other long-term health issues include weight gain, diabetes and heart disease, reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A new study shows eating too much sugar may aggravate inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) symptoms and interrupt Yuletide celebrations.

The University of Pittsburgh scientists found that cutting back on sugary foods can help relieve symptoms for people with IBD. Findings appear in Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

“Too much sugar isn’t good for a variety of reasons, and our study adds to that evidence by showing how sugar may be harmful to the gut, said senior author Timothy Hand, Ph.D., in Medical Xpress. “For patients with IBD, high-density sugar–found in things like soda and candy­–might be something to stay away from.”

Hand is associate professor of pediatrics and immunology at Pitt’s School of Medicine and UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.

What Is Inflammatory Bowel Disease?

The CDC said IBD is a term for two conditions: Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis. These conditions are “characterized by chronic inflammation of the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. Prolonged inflammation results in damage to the GI tract.”

Although the exact cause of IBD is unknown, it is the result of a weakened immune system, according to the CDC.

“The prevalence of IBD is rising around the world, and it’s rising the fastest in cultures with industrialized, urban lifestyles, which typically have diets high in sugar,” Hand said.

Too Much Sugar Harms the Colon

According to the USDA, a 2,000-calorie diet should not exceed 200 calories from added sugars. This amount is approximately equivalent to 12 teaspoons.

The CDC lists added sugars as sucrose, dextrose, table sugar, syrups, honey, and sugars from fruit or vegetable juices.

The University of Pittsburgh studied the effects of sugar on inflammatory bowel disease. Researchers fed mice either a standard or high-sugar diet. Then they treated the mice with DSS, a chemical that damages the colon, to produce IBD symptoms.

Nine days later, all the mice on the high-sugar diet died. In contrast, all the animals on the standard diet survived until the end of the 14-day experiment.

Findings showed a high-sugar diet impairs cell renewal in the colon and exacerbates gut damage in IBD.

“Our research suggests that consuming high levels of sugar could have negative outcomes for repairing the colon in patients with inflammatory bowel disease,” Hand said.

IBD and Colon Cancer Similarities

Colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer death in the United States for both men and women. Everyone is at risk for this disease, regardless of age.

IBD and colon cancer can share similar symptoms, so it is important to get an accurate diagnosis. Consult your healthcare provider if you experience any of these symptoms:

  •  A change in bowel habits
  • Abdominal pain
  • Rectal bleeding
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue

To accurately determine your condition, a colon cancer screening may be recommended. Colonoscopy is the gold standard for CRC screenings. This test lets a doctor see the whole large intestine, find and remove polyps that could become cancerous.

For people at average risk for colon cancer, healthcare agencies recommend starting screenings at age 45. Individuals should be screened even if they don’t have symptoms.

People with IBD have a higher risk of colorectal cancer than the general population, according to the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation.

If you have Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis, you may need to have a colonoscopy before age 45. In some cases, you may need to have a colonoscopy more frequently.

Anyone with the following risk factors may need a colonoscopy before age 45 or more often:

  • Family history of colorectal cancer
  • Polyps (growths inside the colon and rectum) that may become cancerous

Discuss recommended screening intervals with your healthcare provider.

Find a Gastroenterologist Near You

To enhance your quality of life, consume sugar in moderation and undergo screening for colon cancer.

The 12th annual Crohn’s and Colitis Awareness Week is Dec. 1-7. Improving your nutrition by reducing sugar may lessen IBD symptoms and help prevent other harmful medical conditions.

Colorectal cancer is both preventable and highly treatable when detected early, before it spreads to other organs. In 2020, the CDC said about 68 percent of colorectal cancer deaths could be avoided if everyone eligible got screened.

Coverage of colonoscopy differs with health insurance policies. In most cases, there should be no out-of-pocket costs (such as copays or deductibles) for CRC screening tests.

You should contact your health insurance provider to verify any charges and to approve a colonoscopy before age 45.

If you are looking for a quality gastroenterologist, we can help. Our doctors perform colonoscopy screenings at ambulatory surgery centers around the country. Request an appointment at a center near you to schedule a colonoscopy.