Drinking soda can cause liver disease, experts say

Most of us know that drinking too much alcohol is bad for the liver, but we don’t think soft drinks could harm this vital organ. Turns out we should.

People who drink little or no alcohol may be susceptible to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which encompasses a range of liver conditions. When you have NAFLD, too much fat is stored in your liver cells – and although people with this condition rarely report symptoms in the early stages of the disease, NAFLD can eventually cause non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) , a more advanced condition marked by liver damage and compromised liver function.

Several factors can increase your risk of NAFLD and NASH, including certain dietary habits that make developing these conditions much more likely. Read on to find out which very popular drink is now known to trigger non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and how drinking it can harm your health.

READ THIS NEXT: If you notice this around your eyes, get your liver checked.


In the United States, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common form of chronic liver disease. Experts estimate that between a quarter and a third of Americans are affected by NAFLD or NASH.

Inflammation and damage to the liver cause people with these conditions to experience significant changes in their health. “Normally, less than five percent of the liver is fatty by weight, but in patients with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), up to 50% to 80% of liver weight may be fat, primarily in the form of triglycerides,” a 2008 study in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology (CJG) Explain.

Unfortunately, this is only the beginning. NAFLD or NASH can ultimately lead to a series of serious diseases, including chronic cirrhosis of the liver or scarring of the liver, fluid buildup in the abdomen (ascites), fibrosis, liver failure, and liver cancer. Moreover, the CJG notes that NASH is an “increasingly common indication for liver transplantation.”

A young woman buying sodas in a grocery store

Research has shown that drinking a popular drink can significantly increase your risk of developing NAFLD and NASH: sugary drinks (SSB).

A 2015 study published in the Journal of Hepatology examined data from participants in the Framingham Offspring and Third Generation cohorts of the Framingham Study and found that high rates of SSB consumption were linked to poor liver health. “We observed that regular consumption of sugary drinks was associated with an increased risk of fatty liver disease, particularly in overweight and obese people,” the study authors wrote.

The CJG study echoed these findings after conducting its own cross-sectional study over the course of 36 months. “When controlled for other factors, including dietary composition and physical activity, soft drink consumption was the only independent variable able to predict the presence of fatty liver disease in 82.5% of cases with a 100% sensitivity.

Older man drinking sweet soda

A third study, published in 2021 by the journal Clinical gastroenterology and hepatologyfound that your age can also play a role in how sugary carbonated drinks affect your liver.

“Higher mean consumption of SSB is associated with increased liver fat over six years of follow-up and increased likelihood of NAFLD incident, particularly among the older cohort,” the study authors wrote, referring to the oldest cohort which had an average age of 62.8 years. Old. The team noted that there was “no consistent association” observed between SSB consumption and liver health in the younger cohort, which had an average age of 48.4 years.

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A young woman drinking diet soda outdoors

Although the study authors all agreed that sugary soft drinks can cause NAFLD, they came to conflicting conclusions about whether diet sodas could cause similar liver health problems. The Journal of Hepatology the study “found no significant association between diet soda consumption and measures of fatty liver disease,” while the study CJG study saw both types of soft drinks as a threat to liver health.

“Because regular consumption of Coke and Diet Coke in our study resulted in an increased risk of fatty liver disease, factors other than calories and sugar content likely contribute to a higher risk,” the researcher said. CJG wrote the study authors. “These factors include consumption of fructose, aspartame, caramel (food coloring) and other covariates. These sugar and coloring complexes may promote insulin resistance, lipid peroxidation and liver inflammation , and are a source of glycation end products.”

If you are concerned that your soft drink consumption may cause health problems, consult your doctor or other health care provider.

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