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How Sugar Can Harm Your Liver

December 14, 2017

Sugar is everywhere. You’ll find it in packaged goods and desserts, in candy and soda. It’s even hidden in pasta sauce and other foods you wouldn’t expect.

The average American diet includes way too much sugar, which is no wonder why the federal government last year changed dietary guidelines for sugar, and recommended limiting it to no more than 10 percent of daily calories. Previous research published in JAMA Internal Medicine even found people who consume 25 percent of their daily calories from sugar have double the risk of dying from heart disease than those whose sugar intake was just 7 percent of their daily calories.

Sugar and Your Liver

But now a recent study further highlights the dangers of consuming too much sugar. The study, published in the journal Clinical Science, involved a small group of men age 40 to 65 who either had high or low levels of fat in their liver. High fat levels in the liver isn’t healthy, contributes to a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and has been linked to obesity. 

In the study, participants followed either a high-sugar diet where they consumed 650 calories of sugar a day for three months or low-sugar diet where they consumed 140 calories or less of sugar each day for the same time period.

Researchers found men with high fat levels in their liver who already had NAFLD experienced changes in their fat metabolism when they consumed a high-sugar diet. A high-sugar diet made it more difficult for the body to break down fat in the blood, which are used by the body’s cells to provide energy. Ironically, this same effect happened in men with low levels of fat in their liver. These men developed more fat in their livers after they adopted the high-sugar diet and they experienced similar metabolic changes.

The study’s findings are interesting because the metabolic changes researchers found in both groups have been connected to an increased risk for heart attacks, stroke and heart disease.

The study’s researchers also say the results have larger public health implications, especially for younger people.

“While most adults don’t consume the high levels of sugar we used in this study, some children and teenagers may reach these levels of sugar intake by over-consuming fizzy drinks and sweets. This raises concern for the future health of the younger population, especially in view of the alarmingly high prevalence of NAFLD in children snd teenagers, and exponential rise of fatal liver disease in adults,” said the study’s lead author Bruce Griffin.

Consuming too much sugar isn’t good for you, in general, but certain kinds of sugar are more harmful than others. The liver is the only organ in the body that can process fructose, but when you consume high fructose corn syrup — the kind found in processed foods, not fruit — the liver turns it into fat. Some of this fat gets stored in the liver, leading to NAFLD and insulin resistance in the body that increases your risk for obesity, heart disease and other metabolic conditions like diabetes.

So what can you do to limit your sugar intake and reduce your risk?

Stick to the dietary guidelines and make sugar no more than 10 percent of your daily calories. Admittedly, this is difficult to do because of the amount of hidden sugar you’ll encounter in food products, but if the majority of your diet is filled with fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein, you’ll be in much better shape. Also become a more conscious consumer. Read the labels on products to find out how much sugar is in them. Key in on the ingredient list and search for added sugars.  Some products like soda and candy are obvious, but processed fructose can also be found in Ritz crackers or Nutri Grain Bars. Instead choose Wasa and Ryvita crackers or RX and Lara Bars with no added sugars. Simply choosing plain yogurt and unsweetened oatmeal are great options that are naturally free of added sugars.  For a flavor boost, add cinnamon, berries, vanilla extract, or peanut powder.  Compare products and choose the healthiest option that’s within your budget.  Making these kinds of substitutions will reduce your sugar intake in the long term and could keep you from developing a fatty liver.


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