Along with the obesity crisis, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is quickly becoming a fairly common, dangerous, often misunderstood condition. It is estimated that 70 – 90 million Americans, including up to 17% of our children, may have fatty liver, and as the disease can develop slowly and silently, some may not know it. Currently, fatty liver is the most common cause of liver transplants in the U.S., with children as young as 12 years old in need of transplants. Fatty liver increases heart attack risk, and triggers the chronic inflammation that promotes insulin resistance, prediabetes and diabetes type 2. Surprisingly, research shows that it’s not dietary fat but fructose that’s responsible for the buildup of fat deposits in the liver.
When we consume sugar either as glucose, fructose, or sucrose, we may not notice a taste difference, but the body processes and uses these sugars differently. All three are carbohydrates important for healthy function. The majority of dietary carbohydrates are processed into glucose, which circulates as blood sugar to be used immediately for energy or stored in the muscles or liver as glycogen for later use. Unlike fructose, insulin is secreted in response to high glucose levels, which facilitates the intake of energy supporting glucose into the cells. Increasingly, evidence shows that it’s not dietary fats, nor the fructose found in whole fruits and vegetables that’s causing the high levels of fatty liver disease but rather the refined simple sugars and high fructose corn syrup abundant in the standard American diet.
Fructose, a complex sugar found naturally in nutritious, fiber-filled fruits and vegetables, is slowly metabolized by the body when eaten in its whole form. While most cells can process glucose, fructose can only be metabolized in the liver and is not a preferred energy source for either the muscles or the brain. Fructose is lipogenic, or fat producing, and does not initiate insulin release, but is slowly meted out by the liver to help break down glycogen to be used for energy. Excess amounts of fructose are stored in the liver as fat molecules, which can lead to increased blood lipids, high triglyceride and cholesterol levels, and fatty liver, increasing the risks of developing metabolic syndrome and diabetes.
According to Dr. Diana Mager, professor of Clinical Nutrition at the University of Alberta, Canada, it’s important that close attention be paid to what we mean by dietary sugars, differentiating between those that occur naturally in foods and those that are added as sweeteners. “Eating fresh fruits and vegetables is a great way to get healthy sources of complex carbohydrates, fiber and vitamins that will contribute to your overall liver health. If eating packaged foods, choose foods that have added fruit (rather than fruit flavoring) without extra sugar or sugar coatings. An even better idea is to add fresh fruit to unflavored foods for both variety and added taste.”
Historically, alcohol has been considered the liver’s worst enemy, as consuming too much alcohol on a consistent basis can lead to fatty liver, severe inflammation and eventually cirrhosis. Now, although added sugars may not be the only culprit, it does play a significant role in the development of fatty liver disease. If you have some belly fat, often crave sugar and carbohydrates, and eat a lot of refined flour products, sugary drinks and processed foods, you may have a fatty liver. If you are concerned, fatty liver can be detected by a blood test or an ultrasound. However, early on there are effective strategies that can reverse or prevent fatty liver, including dietary changes, exercise and proper supplementation. Reducing sugar consumption will not only help to manage weight, it will protect your overall, cardiovascular and liver health as well.
- Start by cutting way back on fructose consumption, but not by giving up fruit, a relatively minor source. Instead, avoid high fructose corn syrup and limit the amount of sugar you consume from sugar sweetened beverages, processed foods and white flour products.
- In addition to cutting out processed carbohydrates, increase healthy fat intake, such as coconut oil, avocado, omega-3 rich fatty fish or grass fed beef, which actually stimulates fat burning for energy production and decreases inflammation when consumed with a low sugar diet.
- Eat liver detoxifying foods such as leafy veggies, cruciferous vegetables and sulfur-rich onions and garlic.
- Exercise regularly to improve insulin resistance and reduce fatty deposits in the liver.
- Eat healthy protein at every meal to balance blood sugar and stabilize insulin, cut cravings and support optimal liver function.
- Consider liver supporting and healing nutritional supplements such as milk thistle, B vitamins, lipoic acid and NAC.
Professional Supplement Center carries these and other high quality products that support healthy liver function:
NAC 500 mg by BioClinic Naturals – This free form N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine (NAC) supports the body’s natural detoxification process and the synthesis of glutathione, a key cellular antioxidant. Gluten, soy and dairy free, Non-GMO formulation.
Silymarin / Milk Thistle Extract by Douglas Laboratories – Milk thistle has been used traditionally for centuries to support and enhance normal liver function. Silymarin is known for its powerful protective antioxidant and regenerative activities in the liver. Gluten, soy and dairy free formulation.
Lipoic Acid by Integrative Therapeutics – Free radical fighter alpha lipoic acid is active in both fat and water based tissues to help protect vital structures from oxidative stress and free radical damage. Gluten, soy and dairy free, vegetarian formulation.
Ultra B-Complex w /PQQ by Pure Encapsulations – This formula provides a full complement of B vitamins along with BioPQQ™, alpha lipoic acid and luteolin for unique support of mitochondrial bioenergetics and function. Gluten and soy free, Non-GMO vegetarian formula.
Are you feeding your liver too much sugar? http://www.liver.ca/livewell/issues/2012_winter_issue_Issues_Fatty_Liver_Disease.aspx
Abundance of fructose not good for the liver, heart. http://www.health.harvard.edu/heart-health/abundance-of-fructose-not-good-for-the-liver-heart
Too much fructose can damage your liver, just like too much alcohol. http://www.sugarscience.org/the-toxic-truth/
What Is the Difference Between Sucrose, Glucose & Fructose? http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/difference-between-sucrose-glucose-fructose-8704.html
Fructose Absorption & Digestion. http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/fructose-absorption-digestion-4553.html