Manage Your Liver

Liver health: Is sugar becoming the new alcohol?

Liver health: Is sugar becoming the new alcohol?

Sugar has a bad reputation, thanks to its well-known ability to cause type 2 diabetes and other health complications. While we know that excess sugar is bad for our health, have you ever thought about its effects on the liver? How do diets high in sugar influence our liver health? Do different types of sugars impact the liver the same way?


New study finds free sugars to be the culprit of NAFLD

A new study published in JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, reveals that diets that are low in free sugars can significantly improve non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases (NAFLD).

According to the World Health Organization, free sugars refer to the type of sugar that is commonly added to processed foods and beverages, but is naturally found in honey and fruit juices.

The participants followed diets that have low free sugars for 8 weeks, and afterwards showed a huge reduction in their liver fat, from 25% to 17%. They also experienced a significant decrease in their ALT level (an indicator of liver damage), reducing from 103 to 61.

From the research, it is obvious that free sugars are NAFLD patients’ biggest enemy. But what exactly are free sugars, and is there a particular type that is extra harmful to the liver?


Fructose is the real devil behind

Free sugars come in many different forms, but the most commonly known ones are glucose, fructose, and sucrose.

What makes fructose unique from glucose and sucrose is that, it is only metabolized in the liver. The liver converts fructose into glucose for the body to use for energy.

However, when we regularly consume too much fructose than the liver can handle, the excess will be turned into cholesterol and fats that are stored within the liver.

In a study that focuses on the effects of fructose and glucose on liver health, people who consumed fructose-rich beverages had an 8.6% increase in belly fat, compared with only 4.8% of increase in those who consumed glucose-rich beverages.

Belly fat, also known as central or abdominal obesity, is found to be a more accurate prediction of NAFLD than general obesity.

Fructose is commonly added to processed products in the form of high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). In fact, fructose is found in a wide range of foods and beverages, even those that appear to be healthy, such as breakfast cereals, granola bars, energy drinks, and breads. Its addictive nature reduces our appetite control, making it harder for people to quit.


Excess sugar triggers liver inflammation

The dangerous thing about sugar is that, an excess amount of it triggers inflammatory chemicals to be released. Regular consumption of excess sugar causes chronic inflammation throughout the body, and this affects the liver as well.

Liver inflammation is the first signal telling us that the liver is not functioning at its best. Coupled it with overnutrition and a sedentary lifestyle, a simple inflamed liver could easily progress to liver fibrosis or even cirrhosis in a short time span of 10 years.

The adverse effect of sugar on liver health is gradual – you may not notice it instantly. But regular intake of sugar-rich foods and beverages can slowly compromise your liver health, without you even realising it, as liver disease in its early stage doesn’t show much symptoms. 

What should you do instead? Eat whole fruits, instead of drinking fruit juices; go for herbs and spices, instead of cooking with sauces and condiments. There are plenty of ways that you can cut back on sugar intake and eat healthily without sacrificing taste.


Do you have any topics about liver health that you would like us to discuss? Let us know at

  • * All research and clinical data should be used as reference purposes only, results may vary.
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