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Duke: Drinking too many sodas could injure your liver

Posted March 31, 2010

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— Drinking too many sugary sodas isn't good for your body. The calories can pack on the pounds and affect your blood sugar levels, but that’s not all.

Most people would be surprised at how much sugar is actually in a typical carbonated beverage. The sugar is normally added in the form of high fructose corn syrup.

Drinking too much of it can contribute to obesity and diabetes. Now Duke researchers say it's also associated with injury to the liver.

Study connects high fructose corn syrup to liver damage Study connects high fructose corn syrup to liver damage

When it's time for a drink, Don Tegnelia reaches for water or unsweetened tea. Until recently, it was all sugary sodas, ever since his root beer days as a kid.

“My mom would buy those 2-liter bottles, and I would go through those like candy,” he said.

Recently, the 36-year-old was dealing with gout. He had a blood test which revealed another problem.

“And they came back to me and said that I had hepatitis and they didn't know exactly what type of hepatitis,” Tegnelia said.

It turned out to be NASH, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. Most patients don't feel any symptoms.

Tegnelia joined a study at Duke looking at patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. They took liver biopsies and used dietary questionnaires to see if there was a connection to sweetened sodas.

“To our surprise, we found that the increased consumption of high fructose corn syrup was associated with increased scarring in the liver,” said Duke Gastroenterologist Dr. Manal Abdelmalek.

In a written response, the Corn Refiners Association pointed out that the Duke study singled out high fructose corn syrup for blame, but in fact looked at all fructose-containing beverages.

"The researchers counted intake of fruit juices and other beverages containing fructose from sugar, even though those beverages contain no high fructose corn syrup at all," the statement said.

The liver helps in the digestion and absorption of essential nutrients in the body. In obese people, excess calories may lead to the body depositing fat in vital organs like the heart and liver.

“And with that could come the potential for inflammation or injury in that organ,” Abdelmalek said.

Injuries can include liver scarring, cirrhosis and liver cancer. There are no approved drug treatments for NASH, but Tegnelia is in other clinical trials. He said he’s eating healthier foods and avoiding sodas.

“The trials that we have going on today, along with my diet, have allowed it to not progress any further,” he said.

About 30 percent of adults in the United States have fatty liver disease, but many may not be aware of it because it's typically asymptomatic. Only a minority of patients progress to cirrhosis of the liver, and then they're at higher risk of more serious problems.

Besides sodas, there are also many processed foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. More studies are needed to look at exactly how the sweetener affects the liver.

9 Comments

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  • usmcasa Apr 2, 2010

    and i thought it was gonna be the beer that did me in

  • ckblackm Apr 2, 2010

    How many is too many?

  • kikinc Apr 2, 2010

    I'm a clinical research scientist. Please don't comment when you don't know what you're talking about. What was described was a correct account of the research process. Once you find a correlation, you research further to find out whether it is the causation. As one poster put it, HFCS is really the only ingredient that sticks out here. Research is a very delicate, timely process. We don't discover something, and then drop the study. That would be negligence.

    As for doing very little real work, and getting so much money......I routinely put in more than 40 hours a week, yet only get paid for 40 (no money in the budget for overtime), and this will be the second year in a row that I will not receive a raise due to the economy.

    And right now, I'm running a platelet aggregation, which has an incubation time of 12 minutes. I'm not wasting my time on the computer. If it wasn't for those 12 minute runs, I'd have no idea what was going on in the world.

  • Dark_Horse Apr 2, 2010

    Wow, didnt know we had so many scientists posting comments on GOLO...

  • scientistjo Apr 2, 2010

    I don't think many of you know how the scientific process works since you are talking about scientists ensuring "job security". I could say that about any job. Why do we have to keep paving the roads, they've been paved once? Why do we have to keep delivering mail every day, it was delivered yesterday? These examples are just as absurd as what you're suggesting.

  • nerdlywehunt Apr 1, 2010

    So after all the study it needs more study....sounds a lot like a good gig for job security. So many people doing so very little real work and getting so much money!

  • iamyeary Apr 1, 2010

    Heredity or genes has more to do with health than most of these "studies". I know an elderly woman who is pushing 90 years old, she takes NO medication, has perfect blood pressure, and in fact, her fountain of youth is drinking 2 cans of beer before bed. No joke, this has always been her routine.

  • fourfivesix Apr 1, 2010

    "This tells me they have no idea if HFCS or soda causes the damage to the liver."

    while i am on the skeptical side too, "soda" is not an ingredient. HFCS is an ingredient of soda, but there are several other things in soda too. other ingredients (taken from a coke can) include: carbonated water, caramel color, phosphoric acid, "natural flavors", & caffeine. there is extensive research in caffeine and we know it's not that. water, natural flavors, & caramel color aren't it. the phosphoric acid is associated w/ low bone density & kidney issues. the only thing you have left is HFCS...but i'm not the researcher.

    the whole thing is based on correlation, not causation, which they made pretty obvious in the article. so of course they're doing more research

  • readme Apr 1, 2010

    Did you see the last sentence in the article: "More studies are needed to look at exactly how the sweetener affects the liver." This tells me they have no idea if HFCS or soda causes the damage to the liver. They know being fat causes liver damage, and blame soda for making you fat, and soda has HFCS in it, so therefore HFCS damages the liver. Nice science. How about you do a real study with some real analysis and try to figure out what is really going on? This is just misinformation.