Does Sugar Cause Bloating? The Secret Science Behind Bloating

Does sugar cause bloating? Scientists believe so.

There is substantial scientific evidence that sugar can cause bloating. Could a gut microbiome test help you reduce symptoms?

What Are Dietary Sugars?

There are many different types of dietary sugars. Simple sugars (monosaccharides,) such as Glucose, Galactose, and Fructose, join up together to make disaccharides (like lactose in milk) and polysaccharides (such as Glycogen and Starch). These sugars provide us with the fuel to make energy and carry out all biological processes.  

You can find different sugars in different foods:

  • Lactose is found in dairy products such as cheese, cream, and milk.  
  • Fructose is found in fruit, some sweet vegetables, and honey.  
  • Sucrose is found in table sugar.  
  • Raffinose is a complex sugar found in beans and brassica (cabbages, broccoli, Brussel sprouts, beetroots, and some other vegetables.) 
  • Sorbitol in sweeteners and some fruit, and there are many other more complex and refined sugars.  

With improved chemical techniques, sugars have become more refined and processed and now there are millions of names for sugars, from treacle to Maltodextrin to high fructose corn syrups (HFCS).

Regardless of their given name, when you eat them you’ll experience the same sweetness and dopamine-driving chemical pleasure – and a bunch of energy!  

How Can Sugar Cause Bloating?

The symptoms of bloating include stomach discomfort, pain, and gas. It can be tricky to figure out what causes bloating – all too often, it can come out of nowhere! 

However, if you’ve ever wondered whether sugar causes bloating – you were onto something. Scientists have reported that dietary sugars play a pivotal role in causing gut inflammation, bloating, and gas1, 2, 3. Here’s how.

  1. Our digestive system breaks down complex sugars into simple sugars to make energy.
  2. This process can cause gut inflammation – especially if you have an intolerance or allergy to certain sugars. Upon contact with the sugar, such as lactose, your body responds as if it’s a foreign body or disease-causing microorganism, triggering an immune response.
  3. This immune response can be inflammation, whereby the body identifies a potential threat (in this case misidentifying a sugar such as lactose a threat) and isolates it by making the gut inflamed so that immune cells can come and destroy the threat. It’s this inflammation that causes some of the symptoms of bloating.  

Which Sugars Cause Bloating?

Your gut microbiome (the so-called “friendly” bacteria that line our gut) plays an essential role in regulating digestion1, the immune system, and inflammation.

That’s not all. Your gut microbiome also plays a key role in regulating sugar digestion3 – in the stomach, small and large intestine, and colon4,5

Certain strains of bacteria are more beneficial than others. Lactobacillus strains help us break down lactose, whilst Firmicutes and Bifidobacterium bacteria play an essential role in inflammation.

Certain sugars are more likely to cause inflammation – Lactose and Fructose are high inflammation culprits.

No wonder, your microbiome is crucial for preventing dysbiosis (gut imbalance) and SIBO6, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth3,6 – and therefore bloating! 

In fact, research has reported that testing for dysbiosis and SIBO with microbiome tests and personalised microbiome-friendly diets could help you reduce abdominal bloating, distention, and gas7,8,9.   

A well-balanced microbiome can produce small chain fatty acids (SCFA’s) which regulate and reduce the inflammatory response. This means including probiotics and prebiotics. Probiotics contain live cultures, providing helpful bacteria for your gut. Prebiotics feed our gut microbes, helping them to produce SCFAs – and therefore also helping to regulate our immune system.

What Foods Reduce Bloating?

When it comes to bloating, it’s not just about singling out sugar. Your whole diet has an impact. The way certain foods interact can lead to indigestion – and ballooning belly.

Certain foods interact with sugars, increasing or decreasing their inflammatory properties.

Omega-3 plays an essential anti-inflammatory response, reducing the pro-inflammatory properties of Lactose. In this way, a diet high in Omega-3s reduces bloating 12, 13, 14.

A diet high in Omega-3s reduces bloating.

A diet high in Omega-6s (processed foods, lots of simple sugars, and trans-fats) increases the pro-inflammatory property of sugar13.

Therefore, to reduce the effects of gut inflammation and bloating, it’s important to eat a diet that’s high in dietary fiber and prebiotics.

Can a Gut Microbiome Test Help Reduce Bloating?

Gut microbiome tests determine the live strains in your gut.

They tell you which bacteria are present in your gut microbiome and if there is an overgrowth of certain strains.

From this, you can determine how to increase your microbial diversity and even actively boost the strains of anti-inflammatory bacteria through probiotic and prebiotic means.

They can also take strain-tailored antibiotics to reduce the overgrowth of less helpful strains.

Bottom line: testing your gut microbiome1-11, can play an essential role in reducing the inflammatory role of certain sugars in the gut, helping prevent bloating and associated symptoms.


  1. Casen, C., Vebø, H.C., Sekelja, M., Hegge, F.T., Karlsson, M.K., Ciemniejewska, E., Dzankovic, S., Frøyland, C., Nestestog, R., Engstrand, L. and Munkholm, P., 2015. Deviations in human gut microbiota: a novel diagnostic test for determining dysbiosis in patients with IBS or IBD. Alimentary pharmacology & therapeutics42(1), pp.71-83.
  2. Cheng, W.L., Li, S.J., Lee, T.I., Lee, T.W., Chung, C.C., Kao, Y.H. and Chen, Y.J., 2021. Sugar fructose triggers gut dysbiosis and metabolic inflammation with cardiac arrhythmogenesis. Biomedicines9(7), p.728.
  3. Della Corte, K.W., Perrar, I., Penczynski, K.J., Schwingshackl, L., Herder, C. and Buyken, A.E., 2018. Effect of dietary sugar intake on biomarkers of subclinical inflammation: a systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention studies. Nutrients10(5), p.606.
  4. Mari, A., Abu Baker, F., Mahamid, M., Sbeit, W. and Khoury, T., 2020. The evolving role of gut microbiota in the management of irritable bowel syndrome: An overview of the current knowledge. Journal of clinical medicine9(3), p.685.
  5. Matsuoka, K. and Kanai, T., 2015, January. The gut microbiota and inflammatory bowel disease. In Seminars in immunopathology(Vol. 37, No. 1, pp. 47-55). Springer Berlin Heidelberg.
  6. Issa, B., Wafaei, N.A. and Whorwell, P.J., 2012. Abdominal bloating and distension: what is the role of the microbiota. Digestive diseases and sciences57(1), pp.4-8.
  7. Mizoguchi, E. and Mizoguchi, A., 2007. Is the sugar always sweet in intestinal inflammation? Immunologic research37(1), pp.47-60.
  8. Noh, C.K. and Lee, K.J., 2020. Fecal microbiota alterations and small intestinal bacterial overgrowth in functional abdominal bloating/distention. Journal of neurogastroenterology and motility26(4), p.539.
  9. Ringel-Kulka, T., Benson, A.K., Carroll, I.M., Kim, J., Legge, R.M. and Ringel, Y., 2016. Molecular characterization of the intestinal microbiota in patients with and without abdominal bloating. American Journal of Physiology-Gastrointestinal and Liver Physiology310(6), pp. G417-G426.
  10. Scaldaferri, F., Pizzoferrato, M., Gerardi, V., Lopetuso, L. and Gasbarrini, A., 2012. The gut barrier: new acquisitions and therapeutic approaches. Journal of clinical gastroenterology46, pp. S12-S17.
  11. Sundin, J., Öhman, L. and Simrén, M., 2017. Understanding the gut microbiota in inflammatory and functional gastrointestinal diseases. Psychosomatic medicine79(8), pp.857-867.
  12. Calder, P.C., 2013. Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and inflammatory processes: nutrition or pharmacology? British journal of clinical pharmacology75(3), pp.645-662.
  13. DiNicolantonio, J.J. and O’Keefe, J.H., 2018. Importance of maintaining a low omega–6/omega–3 ratio for reducing inflammation. Open heart5(2), p.e000946.
  14. Barbalho, S.M., de Alvares Goulart, R., Quesada, K., Bechara, M.D. and de Carvalho, A.D.C.A., 2016. Inflammatory bowel disease: can omega-3 fatty acids really help? Annals of gastroenterology: quarterly publication of the Hellenic Society of Gastroenterology29(1), p.37.