I’ve mentioned the danger that sugary drinks can pose to your liver previously in Daily Health News. And I’m here today to mention it again. We’re all so aware of the damage that alcohol poses, it’s easy to overlook the threat from all those innocent-looking soft drinks and sweetened fruit juices that line the grocery store shelves. With the summer season coming on and shopping carts piled high with soda bottles and cans of every color and size, I wanted to be sure that each reader understands the dangers in that colorful array.
A study reported last March from Duke University Medical Center found that daily consumption of fructose, the main kind of sugar added to soft drinks and sweetened juice drinks, increases liver fibrosis, which leads to scarring and progressive loss of liver function. The increased consumption of fructose, as well as the increase in fibrosis, are both alarming new trends.
I’d spoken previously with Brent Tetri, MD, a professor of internal medicine at Saint Louis University School of Medicine and an authority on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and I decided to check in again for an update. No, he said — there’s no exaggeration here. Fructose and high fructose corn syrup are among the worst offenders in our diet and can definitely threaten the health of the liver. Fructose is not metabolized well by other cells in the body, he explained, so the liver absorbs it and turns it into fat, some of which is stored in — and has the potential to damage — this organ, whose function is so important to every aspect of our health.
NAFLD is a condition that’s showing up with increasing frequency in the US, Dr. Tetri noted. In fact, about 30% of adults have fat accumulation in the liver that is not related to alcohol.
If there’s good news here, it’s that if damage to your liver hasn’t progressed far, the amount of fructose you consume is a factor that you can easily control. If you lower your caloric intake, causing less inflammation and potential for scarring, the problem will reverse to a variable degree. The liver has an amazing ability to regenerate, Dr. Tetri emphasized. Once it’s scarred, however, the scars hang around, and the liver has to regrow around the scars. That’s why you don’t get your completely undamaged liver back once scarring has begun. So, don’t let that happen!
The liver doesn’t really ask too much of us in return. If we eat right, exercise and avoid excessive alcohol use and — now we know — excessive sugar and fructose, and manage to maintain a healthy weight, Dr. Tetri assured me, very little happens to the liver as we age. The liver at 90 years can look and work much like the liver at nine. It is when you stray from this simple, straightforward formula and challenge your liver with poor diet and a lack of exercise that it runs into trouble. Here’s what to do…
- Make vegetables, whole grains, fish, fruit and olive oil the centerpieces of your diet. A recent Middle Eastern study found that extra virgin olive oil in particular offers potent antioxidant protection against toxins that harm the liver.
Your liver-healthy hint: If you have diagnosed liver damage, avoid alcohol altogether. If not, you can enjoy red wine in moderation, due to the partially protective effect of the polyphenols.
- Limit unhealthy fats. Despite all their well-deserved bad press, trans fats still are added to many processed foods — and when Dr. Tetri fed mice a hefty dose of these fats, they quickly developed liver inflammation that can lead to cirrohsis.
Your liver-healthy hint: Don’t rely on any claims of “zero trans fats” on food packaging, even on a product’s nutrient label, because the law allows food manufacturers to round trans fat content down to zero as long as there is less than one-half gram per serving. Instead, read the ingredient list, which must still include such trans fats as partially hydrogenated oils if they are added during manufacture.
- Don’t take unnecessary medication. For instance, acetaminophen, the active ingredient in many pain pills such as Tylenol, can damage the liver if it is taken in excessive doses.
- Keep moving. Exercise adjusts the body’s metabolism and will help you burn fat that might otherwise end up in your liver.
Your liver-healthy hint: If you’re overweight, losing just 10% of your body weight — whatever you weigh — has enormous liver benefits and quickly improves NAFLD. If you are sedentary, Dr. Tetri says that walking is a good place to start working out… but the reality is that you need to step up your activity level enough to get sweaty and out of breath at least four times a week to see real benefits.
We’re lucky that our livers are so forgiving, let’s give them a break, too.
Brent A. Tetri, MD, professor of internal medicine, director, division of gastroenterology and hepatology, Saint Louis University School of Medicine, St. Louis.
reprinted from Daily Health News