High Fructose Corn Syrup and Risk of Liver Disease

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Sodas are one of many foods and beverages that contain high fructose corn syrup. Dejan Beokovic/Stocksy
  • Researchers say high fructose corn syrup may increase the risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • High fructose corn syrup can be found in many foods and beverages, including soft drinks and processed foods.
  • Experts say you can reduce the amount of high fructose corn syrup by eating a healthy diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean proteins.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a general term used to describe a wide range of liver conditions that affect those who drink little or no alcohol.

This stands in contrast to alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD), which is damage to the liver caused by years of excessive alcohol consumption.

Now, new research shows that people who consume more high-fructose corn syrup may also be at higher risk for liver disease.

The research has been present at ENDO 2022, the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society. In the study, researchers analyzed data from 3,292 participants enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2017 and 2018.

The study has not yet been peer reviewed or published.

In their findings, the researchers reported that the highest proportion of those who consumed the most fructose were Mexican Americans (48%) and non-Hispanic Black Americans (44%). Non-Hispanic whites had a reported percentage of 33%.

The highest prevalence of NAFLD was among Mexican Americans, who consumed the most fructose at 70%. the prevalence of NAFLD among Mexican Americans who consumed low amounts of fructose was reduced to 52%.

Overall, the researchers found that people who consumed high levels of fructose were more likely to develop NAFLD than people who consumed lower levels.

They noted that this effect was especially true among Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic whites.

Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruits, fruit juices, some vegetables and honey. Although it is a naturally occurring sugar, it is also an ingredient in high fructose corn syrup, a component of a number of unhealthy foods.

In addition to being a contributing factor to obesity and diabetes, researchers suggest that high fructose corn syrup may also be a contributing factor to NAFLD.

“An analysis of the deleterious effect of high fructose corn syrup on the development of fatty liver disease presented at the Endocrine Society meeting confirms the importance of controlling the consumption of this harmful ingredient found in most sodas and candy”, Dr Hillel Tobias, the director of hepatology at Concorde Medical Group in New York, associated with Lenox Hill Hospital, told Healthline. “The Endocrine Society presentation found a direct relationship across all segments of the population between the extent of high fructose intake and the incidence of fatty liver disease.”

“The results of this study are consistent with the literature that high fructose intake is associated with an increased risk of developing NAFLD,” Dr Na Li, a gastroenterologist and hepatologist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, also told Healthline. “We have now recognized that high fructose not only precipitates fat accumulation, but also liver inflammation.”

NAFLD is prevalent in 24 percent adults in the United States.

It is a chronic condition where excess fat accumulates around the liver and is not caused by alcohol consumption.

Symptoms of NAFLD include fatigue and pain or discomfort in the upper right region of the abdomen.

NAFLD can lead to complications, the most serious of which is cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver is injured. To try and prevent inflammation, liver scarring and eventually this scarring process can lead to liver cancer and liver failure.

NAFLD can also lead to a condition known as NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis), which stimulates the progressive deterioration of the liver.

“NAFLD is a condition where there is too much fat buildup in the liver. This can lead to serious liver problems including liver inflammation, liver scarring, liver cancer, and death from liver failure” , said Tobias. “It happens without any consumption of alcohol. Unfortunately, it is the most common liver disease in the world, as well as in the United States. It is expected to become the leading cause of liver transplantation by 2025. This disease is potentially preventable through dietary modifications.

Experts say the best way to reduce the risk of NAFLD is to eat a healthy diet.

Healthy diets are those that are full of healthy fats, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein if you choose to eat animal protein.

Avoiding high fructose corn syrup, in general, is one of the best ways to maintain a healthy diet.

Another way to reduce the risk of NAFLD is to maintain a healthy weight through exercise.

“Natural fruits, on the contrary, are less likely to cause metabolic abnormalities due to the low fructose content per fruit and the presence of many antioxidants that combat fructose-induced effects. Patient education, including instructions on healthy eating, is a major part of managing NAFLD,” Li said.

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