How Does Fructose Affect Fatty Liver?

Anatomy of the Liver
Credit: Dreamstime

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common chronic liver condition in the world today, with more than 882 million people diagnosed as of 2017. Even more concerning, this number has been rising exponentially in recent years. Between 1990 and 2017, the percent of the global population with NAFLD rose nearly 33%, with developed Western countries seeing some of the biggest surges. What is fueling the rapid spread of this silent pandemic?

It is generally accepted that obesity is a major factor contributing to the rise of fatty liver disease, and many experts place blame on the Western diet as the root cause of this growing problem. Western countries tend to eat foods that are higher in sodium and preservatives while lacking in fiber and other nutrients from fresh fruits and vegetables. These aspects of the modern Western diet and its growing popularity around the world have all played a role in the escalation of the fatty liver disease crisis, as well as obesity. However, new research has pinpointed one particular component of this diet as the leading culprit: sugar.

Liver with Sugar Cubes
Credit: Dreamstime

Excess sugar is a known contributor to insulin resistance, high triglycerides, and elevated cholesterol levels, all of which contribute to weight gain and the accumulation of fatty tissue in the liver. In addition, the very consumption of sugar directly harms the liver. Refined sugar and high fructose corn syrup, an inexpensive substitute for cane sugar introduced in the 1970s and now pervasive in food and beverage products, have been shown to degrade the protective barrier between your intestinal tract and your bloodstream. When intact, this barrier prevents harmful endotoxins released naturally by your gut bacteria from reaching the blood. But when excess sugar wears down this gut-blood barrier, toxins leak through and produce an inflammatory response, prompting the accumulation of fatty deposits in the liver.

While avoiding sweets and sugary drinks are an obvious solution, the food industry has made it increasingly difficult to evade the consumption of sugar. Seemingly healthy choices like low fat yogurt, granola, and protein bars are often unnecessarily packed with sugar to improve taste and increase cravings. Even many savory foods like pasta sauce, canned soups, ketchup, and barbecue sauce contain high quantities of added sugar.

Of course, it is not always necessary to cut sugar out of your diet completely to help avoid developing a fatty liver, but a little mindfulness can go a long way. Paying close attention to the ingredient list on the products you consume and making a few simple changes can help limit your risk of developing NAFLD.



Jennifer recently retired from her career as a Certified Manual Physical Therapist to spend more time with her family. When she isn't writing about natural medicine, she enjoys practicing yoga, rock climbing, and running marathons.

Email Jennifer at [email protected].


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