When considering the negative health impacts of sugar consumption, fatty liver disease can’t be ignored. Your liver is essential for your body to function, since it enables blood clotting and removes waste and toxins from the blood, among other things. Consuming large quantities of sugar can cause major problems for your liver, thereby causing a number of different health problems.
Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty liver disease, also called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) or hepatic steatosis, is a prevalent condition that affects up to a quarter of the population. It is most prevalent in Western nations with high-fat and high-sugar diets, and its rise parallels the rise of obesity and diabetes.
When most people think of liver diseases, alcohol typically comes to mind, but studies find that fat accumulation independent of alcohol consumption is still extremely damaging to the liver’s functions. Just as the rest of the body can accumulate fat stores, so can the liver accumulate excess fat. When the fat stores become too great, they can act as a toxin to the liver and cause a decrease in liver function.
The Relationship Between Sugar and the Liver
While there are many contributing factors that come into play when it comes to liver health (more on that later), studies show a clear link between sugar consumption and fatty liver disease. Fructose in particular seems to promote liver disease, since it is specifically metabolized by the liver. Even in people who are at a healthy weight, sugar can cause fatty buildup in the liver.
In small amounts (like the amounts gotten from eating fruits and vegetables), the liver easily processes fructose and the body is able to use it efficiently. In diets high in processed foods and added sugars, however, these high levels of fructose are turned into fat (lipogenesis). In high quantities, sugar is as bad as alcohol when it comes to impacting liver health.
Risk Factors and Comorbidities
While many people suffering from fatty liver disease don’t even know they have it (it is often first found during routine blood tests), it can sometimes cause pain in the abdomen along with feelings of fatigue or nausea. NAFLD can turn into nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is characterized by inflammation of the liver, and this condition is much more aggressive and damaging. An average of 20% of people with NAFLD will develop NASH. This can progress to developing scar tissue in the liver (fibrosis), and the scar tissue may replace healthy tissue (cirrhosis), leading to liver failure or liver cancer.
The risk of fatty liver disease increases if you:
- Fall into the obesity category
- Have excess belly fat
- Have been diagnosed with diabetes or suffer from insulin resistance
- Suffer from high blood pressure
- Have high cholesterol levels
- Have metabolic syndrome
Sugar consumption contributes to many of these risk factors, and many of these comorbidities are worsened by high-sugar diets.
5 Simple Steps to Reverse the Disease
While there is no “cure” or medication for NAFLD, there are steps you can take to reverse the disease and treat the contributing factors.
- Weight loss through eating a healthy diet and increasing physical activity. Losing just 3-5% of your body weight can positively impact liver health
- Limit salt, sugar, and saturated fat
- Avoid alcohol
- Be careful with NSAIDs and over the counter medications
- Manage comorbidities such as diabetes, hypertension, or high cholesterol
Of course, prevention is the best medicine. A healthy overall lifestyle can help to keep your liver in great shape, with choosing a healthy diet, getting enough exercise, avoiding refined sugars and saturated fats, and maintaining a healthy weight being at the top of the list.
For optimum liver health, avoid sugars and other foods that can cause fatty buildup in your body and its organs. By taking care of your organs, they will continue taking care of you – allowing you to live your life healthily and happily.