Reducing sugary drinks improves kids’ livers in just ten days

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Infographic: study of obese children showing improvements in liver function in ten days when sugary drinks were removed from their diets
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A new study by Jean-Marc Schwarz, PhD, of Touro University California in Vallejo, and colleagues has demonstrated that removing sugary drinks – including fruit juice – from obese children dramatically reduced their liver fat and fat synthesis in just ten days.

“When we ingest fructose in large quantities, such as in fruit juices or in sodas, it causes almost a tsunami in the liver, forcing it to produce more fat,” Schwarz said. “We wanted to do an intervention study to see what would happen if we changed the fructose intake. We wanted to see if there were some benefits that could be seen in the short term.”

The study was carried out on 22 high fructose consuming children, aged 9 to 18. Their habitual consumption was greater than 50g of fructose per day, which is equivalent to just four 8oz glasses of fruit juice or sugar sweetened soft drinks.

During the study the children’s liver health increased markedly – de novo lipogenesis (conversion of sugar to fat in the liver) decreased by nearly 60% whilst liver fat itself decreased by over 20%.

“These results suggest that hepatic de novo lipogenesis is an important mechanism contributing to liver fat accumulation in children, which can be reversed by short-term fructose restriction,” the group stated. “Our data support public health efforts to reduce sugar consumption.”

A clever aspect of the study design was to replace calories lost from the excluded drinks with complex starches, ensuring that the effects observed were due to removal of fructose not changes in macronutrients or energy intake.

This study builds on earlier work showing that high fructose consumption is associated with liver fat accumulation and hypertriglyceridemia, which are suspected risks for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The conversion of sugar to fat in the liver is a likely contributing mechanism.

The research was presented at the Endocrine Society’s 97th Annual Meeting and Expo March 2015, in San Diego, by Jean-Marc Schwarz, PhD et al.

[EDIT: due to an error in the researchers’ poster paper abstract (linked to above) this post originally went out with the figure of 30% reduction in liver fat – the correct reduction appears to be 20% – the info graphic has been amended to reflect this]

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