Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption Increases NAFLD Risk

Feb 7, 2017 | Mayo Clinic Transplant Dietitian | @mayoclinictransplantdietitian

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, also known as NAFLD, takes place when fat accumulates in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol. At its most severe, NAFLD can progress to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), causing cirrhosis and liver failure. NASH is the second most common reason for liver transplant.

When caught early on, NAFLD is reversible. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and weight is the number one method for mitigating your risk of NAFLD. If you have been previously diagnosed with NAFLD, losing weight and becoming more active are currently the primary treatments for a fatty liver.2017-02-01 Soda Can

Making long-term healthy changes with diet and exercise are key to patients’ success. As you take inventory of your current lifestyle, don’t overlook beverage consumption.  A 2015 study conducted by Tufts University linked the intake of sugar-sweetened beverages to an increased risk of NAFLD.

Questionnaires were sent to 2,634 patients asking how frequently they consumed sugar-sweetened beverages. Participants also underwent a CT scan to screen for fatty liver disease, as well as a test used to assess liver inflammation.

Results showed those who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages daily had an overall 55 percent increased risk of NAFLD compared to those that did not consume sugared beverages. In addition, those who consumed sugared beverages had a significantly higher ALT level, indicating an inflamed liver. The most common beverage consumed was cola (40 percent). There was no relationship between consumption of diet soda and NAFLD.

When sugar enters the body, a complex process of chemical transformations takes place. The liver uses sugar to create fat, a process called lipogensis. When high volumes of sugar enter the body on a continuous basis, the sugar in the blood turns into triglycerides and the liver develops tiny fat droplets in its cells which lead to NAFLD.

What you can do

Considering sugar sweetened beverages offer no nutritional benefit and do contribute to total daily caloric intake, it’s important to be mindful of consumption and consider limiting intake to select occasions. Here are three ideas for refreshing alternatives:

  • Quench your thirst with water. Men should aim for 13 cups (three liters) per day and women should aim for nine cups (2.2 liters) daily. Infuse your water with fresh lemon or lime slices, or another favorite fruit. Get creative! If you have cirrhosis and have been advised to limit your fluid intake, continue to follow the direction of your medical team.
  • Swap sugary soda with sparkling water. Grocers have dozens of flavors to choose from these days.
  • Try unsweetened tea. Here’s a minty-lime ice tea recipe to get you started.

Have you kicked your soda habit? If so, what strategies helped you?


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