Liver Disease and Sugary Drinks

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Posted: 17/06/2015 Print

Liver Disease and Sugary Drinks

Guest article by Sam Hadadi

Sugary Drinks Linked to Liver Disease

We all know that we should be drinking more water to keep our bodies healthy, hydrated and happy. We're told get our eight glasses a day and see our digestion improve, our skin glow and our energy levels soar.

It sounds simple in theory, doesn’t it? Yet, all too often – especially when we’re out with friends - it’s tempting to say no to that jug of tap water and reach for a fruit juice or fizzy drink instead.

Of course, we know that we shouldn’t. Endless news stories have warned us of the dangers of sugars found in our favourite shop-bought drinks. We know that they can lead to obesity (so much so that there was even talk of a so-called fizzy drink tax1 to tackle weight problems), with up to 15 teaspoons of sugar found in some of the more popular drinks.

Sugar spoons

Yet, still we find ourselves doing it.

However, if the obesity warnings weren’t enough to put you off your soft drink habit, scientists are now linking sugar-sweetened beverages to an increase in the risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Research on the Effects of Drinking Sugary Drinks

In fact, researchers from the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging told the Journal of Hepatology that just one of these sweetened drinks a day can raise your risk of the disease. Just one!

The theory is backed up by a study, where the scientists analysed 2,634 dietary questionnaires from middle-aged men and women enrolled in the National Heart Lunch and Blood Institute.

The sugar-sweetened drinks on the questionnaires included caffeinated and caffeine-free colas, other fizzy beverages with sugar, fruit punches, lemonade and non-carbonated fruit drinks.

Each of the men and women then had a CT scan to measure the amount of fat in their livers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the researchers saw a higher rate of Non-Alcoholic Fatty liver Disease (NAFLD) among those who drank at least one sugar-sweetened drink per day.

Worrying when you consider that NAFLD – or a build-up of fat in the liver cells – often doesn’t come with symptoms and can increase your risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.

Jiantao Ma, one of the authors on the study, said: “Our study adds to a growing body of research suggesting that sugar-sweetened beverages may be linked to NAFLD and other chronic diseases including diabetes and cardiovascular disease.”

Why The Health Risks?

So, why the risks? Why can these drinks cause obesity and so many other problems?

Well, quite simply, many of these sugar-sweetened drinks contain fructose, a dangerous sugar that can increase the risk of NAFLD simply because of how our bodies process it.

Worringly, EU regulations2 will soon allow food companies who use fructose in their products to market them as a “healthy product”. Although fructose does have a lower GI, it is potentially more dangerous to us than any other form of sugar.

In a study reported in ‘American News Report’experts found a direct link between consumption of fructose and obesity and Type 2 Diabetes. In fact, obesity levels were 20 per cent higher in countries with high intakes of corn syrup. 

Indeed, just last year, further studies in ‘Science Daily’4 seemed to confirm that there is a correlation between the amount of fructose we consume and obesity levels. Indeed, even our insulin resistance levels may be affected.

Terrifying, isn’t it? Yet it seems that the reality is stark if you drink up these kinds of drinks2.

What Are The Other Dangers Of Drinking Sugary Drinks?

If you’re in doubt over whether or not canned drinks are really that bad for you, then think again.

These high-sugar drinks aren’t just linked to NAFLD and obesity. They are also thought to be a cause of type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, inflammation and heart disease.

You see, research has shown that diets with high sugar levels can lead to increased insulin resistance – a big trigger for diabetes - as well as increased levels of inflammatory markers that boost the risk of other chronic diseases.

There’s even worse news for women who consume sugary drinks every day: the risk of heart disease is even higher5.

As if that weren’t enough, many of these same drinks contain phosphoric acid, which messes with the body’s ability to absorb calcium and can also slow digestion and block nutrient absorption. More still, the high sugar, sodium and caffeine levels in a lot of these drinks can dehydrate the body – defeats the object of drinking up in the first place, doesn’t it?

Oh, and this is all before we get started on what it can do to your pearly whites…

Should I Be Drinking Them?

Quite simply, no!

Wherever possible, reach for water over fruit juices or packaged, sugary drinks, or even coconut water6.

Infused water

Alternatively, try making your own smoothies or juices (we have some ideas7 on how to make them lower sugar), or enjoy a blend fruit or green teas.

Tea white

If you’re still in doubt, Nicola McKeown, another author from the study, offers a stark warning for sugary drinks lovers. She says: "Although there is much more research to be done, sugar-sweetened beverages are a source of empty calories, and people need to be mindful of how much they are drinking, perhaps by reserving this habit for special occasions."

We’ll leave you with that as food for thought…

For further reading see our 'News' Section.

Sam Hadadi








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About Sam

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Sam Hadadi is an ex-BBC journalist and now a freelance writer specialising in fitness and food.

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