Person using glucometer to measure blood sugar and wondering if sugar causes inflammation

Does sugar cause inflammation?

Medically reviewed on April 4, 2023 by Jillian Foglesong Stabile, MD, FAAFP. To give you technically accurate, evidence-based information, content published on the Everlywell blog is reviewed by credentialed professionals with expertise in medical and bioscience fields.

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Inflammation is your body’s way of healing when it perceives a threat. To sweet tooths and dessert lovers, sugar may seem like anything but. However, if you’ve started noticing some inflammatory symptoms after you’ve enjoyed your pie with ice cream, you might be wondering how sugar and inflammation are related.

Does sugar cause inflammation? A 2022 literature review claims that dietary sugar intake could induce minor chronic inflammation, autoimmune responses, and neuroinflammation. [1]

Researchers are still closely studying the connection between inflammation and sugar intake, and healthcare providers are keeping an eye out for emerging data.

In this guide, we’ll dive into how inflammation works, explore how sugar can affect the body, and discuss how eliminating sugar from your diet may decrease your inflammation symptoms.

What is inflammation?

Inflammation is the immune system’s response to a problem (or perceived one) inside your body or on your skin, like bacteria, a virus, or toxins. [2] When your body activates its inflammatory response, your immune cells respond in a few ways:

  • Immune cells release inflammatory mediators—like the hormones histamine and bradykinin—that signal blood vessels to dilate (widen).
  • Your blood vessels dilate, which allows increased blood flow to an affected area. As a result: The concentration of immune cells in the affected area increases; Inflamed areas can turn red and feel hot or warm; Cells may release additional fluids as a protective mechanism
  • Dilated blood vessels, increased blood flow to an area, and increased cellular fluid release all help your body fight off an irritant—but they also can cause less comfortable symptoms like fever, swelling, and redness.

But inflammation isn’t always a good thing.

When someone has an auto-immune disease, the immune system attacks cells that don’t actually pose a threat to the body. But, the immune system thinks they’re a threat, so it initiates the inflammatory process. [3]

Chronic or excessive inflammation may cause some health issues. For instance, overwhelming evidence suggests that chronic inflammation is the underlying cause of Rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, Crohn’s disease, and ulcerative colitis. [2]

How does sugar affect the body?

Sugars of all kinds (whether it’s added sugar or naturally occurring) interact with systems throughout the body. For instance, glucose (one type of sugar) is a significant source of cellular energy—it helps cells perform basic functions. [4]

Researchers are still exploring the ways in which dietary sugars impact the immune system. But, one bodily process that’s drawn attention from scientists is the uptake of lipopolysaccharide (LPS): [5]

  • When a variety of nutrients (not just sugars) are introduced to the digestive system, gut microbes increase the uptake of LPS.
  • This LPS uptake is sensed by innate immune system cells through a receptor called toll-like receptor 4 (TLR4).
  • When TLR 4 is activated by LPS, the innate immune system produces an inflammatory response—researchers still aren’t sure exactly why this happens.

The LPS uptake process is only one example of how complex your body’s nutrient response can be. While researchers know that sugars impact cellular energy production and could induce immune system responses, we still have much to uncover about the connection between sugar and systemic inflammation.

Can eliminating sugar help with inflammation?

A 2022 literature review explored numerous studies about the connection between dietary sugar intake and systemic inflammation. [1] There are two important things to note about this literature review and the studies it summarizes:

  • These studies had conflicting results. Scientists need to perform additional research to conclude consistent, repeated results.
  • While some of these studies tested human subjects, many used rodent models (mice and rats). While rodent models can indicate promising results in eventual human trials, they’re not always accurate predictors of human responses.

Here’s a brief roundup of the studies noted in the literature review:

  • In a human trial, researchers discovered that fructose, glucose, and sucrose all increased levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a molecule that plays a role in the body’s inflammatory response. [6]
  • A separate human trial found no significant changes in pro-inflammatory molecules (and didn’t observe any low-grade inflammation) after test subjects consumed four servings of sugary beverages over a multiple-week period. [7]
  • Another study researching sugary drinks identified an increase in inflammatory factors (chemicals related to the inflammation process) released by liver tissue, which could indicate a tissue-based immune response to sugar intake. [8]

As it stands, the evidence connecting inflammation and sugar intake is limited. We recommend talking with your healthcare provider or a Registered Dietitian to delve deeper into your unique symptoms.

Learn more about your health with Everlywell

Do sugar spikes cause inflammation? Researchers are still trying to establish a direct connection between high blood sugar and the immune system (which regulates inflammation). But, scientists do know that the body uses and responds to nutrients in some ways, which may be early evidence that suggests a possible connection.

If you’re concerned or curious about inflammation, consider taking the Everlywell at-home Inflammation Test. The test lets you check levels of both hs-CRP (an inflammation marker) as well as vitamin D.

What blood test shows inflammation?

Do blood sugar spikes cause inflammation?

Acute vs. chronic inflammation: understanding the difference


  1. Ma X, Nan F, Liang H, et al. Excessive intake of sugar: An accomplice of inflammation. Frontiers in Immunology. 2022;13. doi:10.3389/fimmu.2022.988481
  2. What is an inflammation? National Library of Medicine. Published February 22, 2018. Accessed March 8, 2023.
  3. Inflammation. National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Published April 28, 2021. Accessed March 8, 2023.
  4. Carbohydrates. MedlinePlus. Accessed March 8, 2023.
  5. Childs C, Calder P, Miles E. Diet and immune function. Nutrients. 2019;11(8):1933. doi:10.3390/nu11081933
  6. Jameel F, Phang M, Wood LG, Garg ML. Acute effects of feeding fructose, glucose and sucrose on blood lipid levels and systemic inflammation. Lipids in Health and Disease. 2014;13(1). doi:10.1186/1476-511x-13-195
  7. Bodur M, Nergiz Ünal R. The effects of dietary high fructose and saturated fatty acids on chronic low grade inflammation in the perspective of chronic diseases. Cukurova Medical Journal. 2019;44(2):684-693. doi:10.17826/cumj.482623
  8. Kuzma JN, Cromer G, Hagman DK, et al. No differential effect of beverages sweetened with fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, or glucose on systemic or adipose tissue inflammation in normal-weight to obese adults: A randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2016;104(2):306-314. doi:10.3945/ajcn.115.129650
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