The association between sugary beverages, liver fat, fibrosis and liver disease

July 1, 2021

Researchers at the University of Michigan found an association between sugar-sweetened beverages, or SSBs, and high rates of elevated liver stiffness, according to a news release from the university.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, is the leading cause of liver disease in the United States, and it can be described as an unhealthy accumulation of liver fat that is not attributed to alcohol consumption.

“I teamed up with Michigan Medicine liver specialist Elliot Tapper, MD, to explore the association between these beverages and liver fat and fibrosis among healthy adults throughout the U.S. Ultimately, we wanted to see the direct impact of consuming SSBs on developing liver disease,” said said Cindy Leung, ScD, MPH, Nutrition Epidemiologist at the University of Michigan whose research focuses on diet and health disparities in vulnerable populations.

The duo examined the 2017-2018 NHANES, which is a national survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They focused their study on healthy adults who do not have any significant medical conditions like liver disease, diabetes, or cancer. Each participant was also interviewed about key factors like their socioeconomic status and demographics.

On two separate days, 2,706 study participants completed detailed interviews about their food and drink intake. Leung and Tapper then examined SSB consumption, measured in eight-ounce servings, in relation to liver fat and fibrosis, adjusting for socioeconomic and other health factors.

Leung noted that the more SSBs someone consumed, the higher their liver fat numbers presented.

“We observed a ‘dose-response relationship’ where higher consumption rates for SSBs were associated with high rates of elevated liver stiffness,” she said. “This was eye-opening, because liver disease is traditionally associated with alcoholism, yet it is increasingly becoming more common in people who consume a lot of high-sugar products.”

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