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Take Care of Your Liver, Watch Sugar Consumption

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Liver Disease related image George Doyle/Stockbyte/Thinkstock

The continuing national conversation about Americans' overconsumption of sugar -- particularly New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's current war on supersized sodas -- brings up a good point about liver health.

If you consume too much sugar, you are putting your liver at risk. Add that to all the other health problems associated with diets high in sugar.

It's not always a simple "A leads to B" statement, but it is known that overconsumption of sugar is sometimes the precursor to fatty liver disease. Doctors often want to test for fatty liver disease when they see overweight or obese patients.

Fatty liver disease is not actually a disease but a condition -- usually showing no symptoms -- that can lead to cirrhosis (scarring) and liver failure.

This abnormal accumulation of fat on the liver is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) when it is diagnosed in someone who drinks little or no alcohol.

A more serious step up from NAFLD is nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, also called NASH. It means fat in the liver is causing inflammation or other damage.

According to the National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse, NASH affects 2 to 5 percent of Americans, while an additional 10 to 20 percent of Americans have fat in their liver, although it is not necessarily doing any harm.

The NDDIC says there is no one cause of NASH, but it is often seen in obese patients and/or those with diabetes. So not surprisingly, the recommendation to patients is to take weight off, eat a balanced diet, increase physical activity, manage medications and avoid alcohol.

Keep in mind, though, NASH can also show up in those who are not obese, do not have diabetes and do not have elevated blood cholesterol.

Why take care of your liver? It's considered the most complex organ in the body, with the tasks of regulating blood sugar levels, producing enzymes, breaking down toxins and filtering food components, among other things.

The book "Digestive Wellness" by Elizabeth Lipski notes that high fructose corn syrup has been linked to fatty liver disease in several studies.

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June 7, 2013 - 2:44am
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