High Fructose Corn Syrup and Liver Disease Risk

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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 can increase a person’s risk of developing nonalcoholic 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 adopting a healthy diet with whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a broad term used to describe a wide range of liver conditions that affect those who drink little to no alcohol.

This is opposed to alcohol-related liver disease (ARLD), which is the damage done to the liver from years of excessive drinking.

Now, new research is showing that people who consume a higher amount of high fructose corn syrup also may be at higher risk of liver disease.

The research was presented at ENDO 2022, the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting. 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 hasn’t been peer-reviewed or published yet.

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

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

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

They noted that this effect was particularly true in Mexican Americans and non-Hispanic whites.

Fructose is a natural sugar found in fruit, fruit juices, certain vegetables, and honey. While it’s a naturally occurring sugar, it is also an ingredient in high fructose corn syrup, a component in 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 intake of this harmful ingredient found in most sodas and candies,” Dr. Hillel Tobias, the director of hepatology at the Concorde Medical Group in New York, told Healthline. “The Endocrine Society presentation found a direct relationship in all segments of the population between the extent of high fructose consumption and the incidence of fatty liver disease.”

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

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

It is a chronic disease where excess fat builds up 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 severe of which is cirrhosis of the liver. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver is injured. To try to prevent inflammation, the liver scars, 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 progressive deterioration of the liver.

“NAFLD is a condition where there is too much fat build up in the liver. This can lead to serious liver problems including liver inflammation, scarring of the liver, liver cancer, and death from liver failure,” said Tobias. “This occurs without any alcohol intake at all. Unfortunately, this is the most common liver disease worldwide, 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 by dietary modifications.”

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

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

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

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

“Natural fruits, instead, are less likely to cause metabolic abnormalities due to the lower fructose content per fruit and presence of many antioxidants that combat fructose-induced effects. Patient education including instructions on a healthy diet is a major component in the management of NAFLD,” said Li.

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