Drinking just one sweetened beverage a day may be all it takes to increase the risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). As the name suggests, this disorder, marked by an accumulation of fat in liver cells, has nothing to do with alcohol consumption, and many people with NAFLD have no symptoms. However, it affects approximately 25 percent of Americans and puts them at greater risk of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Researchers at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University reported the risks of developing liver disease posed by sweetened beverages after analyzing 2,634 questionnaires from middle-aged men and women enrolled in the Framingham Heart Study’s Offspring and Third Generation cohorts. The beverages at issue include both caffeinated-and caffeine-free colas, other carbonated drinks containing sugar, fruit punches, and lemonade or other non-carbonated fruit drinks. All of these beverages are significant dietary sources of fructose, a compound that may increase the risk of NAFLD because of the way it is processed in our bodies, the researchers said. The study participants underwent CT scans to assess the amount of fat in their livers. The link to sweetened beverages remained after the researchers accounted for age, gender, body mass index, calorie intake, alcohol consumption and smoking.
My take: This isn’t the first study to find a link between NAFLD and sugar-sweetened beverages. In 2010 researchers at Duke University Medical Center linked foods and beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup to NAFLD and scarring of the liver. Researchers there looked at dietary questionnaires completed by 427 adults with NAFLD. Only 19 percent of these patients reported no consumption of fructose containing beverages. The more of these drinks study participants consumed, the more liver scarring was seen. There's no treatment for NAFLD - all you can do is lose weight and lower your triglycerides if they're elevated. These beverages have no place in a healthy diet.