Are your liver cells dying?

By naturopath, Margaret Jasinska

It sounds quite dramatic but it’s a reality for a large number of people. Most people are not aware of the serious effects an unhealthy diet can have on their liver. Everyone knows that consuming too much sugar can cause weight gain, rot your teeth and raise your risk of type 2 diabetes. Not everyone is aware that sugar can actually cause harm to your liver cells in a similar fashion to alcohol.

A high sugar diet is the biggest risk factor for the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. It’s not that surprising when you consider that the liver is the primary site of sugar metabolism in your body.

Fatty liver is an increasingly common disease that is thought to affect approximately 30 percent of people living in Australia and the USA. It’s even more prevalent in overweight people. In reality, the incidence of fatty liver is probably much greater because many people simply don’t know they have the condition. In the early stages, fatty liver can produce no symptoms, or very mild symptoms that most people don’t attribute to their liver.

Most common signs of a fatty liver

The most common signs of a fatty liver include the following:

  • Abdominal obesity. Waist circumference greater than 102 cm for men and greater than 89 cm for women. Although non-Caucasians or people with a small frame can have a fatty liver at a much smaller waist circumference.
  • Elevated blood triglycerides (greater than 1.9mmol/L).
  • Low HDL “good” cholesterol (less than 1.04mmol/L in men and less than 1.3mmol/L in women)
  • Other possible signs of fatty liver can include fatigue, indigestion, over-heating and excessive sweating, as well as nausea.

A recent study published in the Journal of Hepatology and conducted at Tufts University looked at the impact of sugary drinks on liver health. The study assessed the dietary questionnaires of 2,634 individuals, who were mostly comprised of middle aged men and women. Researchers looked at the frequency of consumption of sugary beverages and subsequent risk of fatty liver disease.

The sugary beverages consisted of soft drinks, fruit drinks and fruit punches. The participants received a CT scan of their liver to see how much fat is inside it.

People who reported drinking at least one sugary beverage each day were found to be 60 percent more likely to have a fatty liver, compared to people who said they never consumed these drinks. In fact, the more sugary beverages a person drank, the higher their risk of fatty liver. The researchers only looked at the types of drinks the participants consumed; there are plenty of foods that are high in sugar as well and these also raise the risk of developing a fatty liver.

What does this have to do with killing liver cells? When excess fat accumulates inside the liver, it causes harm to liver cells. If this damage is allowed to continue year after year, it significantly raises the risk of cirrhosis of the liver. People with a fatty liver typically have elevated liver enzymes on a blood test called a liver function test. This is the most common way fatty liver is first detected.

Liver enzymes belong inside your liver cells where they carry out a number of metabolic functions. If your liver cells become damaged, these enzymes leak into your bloodstream and produce an elevated reading on a blood test.

Have you seen That Sugar Film yet? I highly recommend it. It’s extremely informative, shocking and highly entertaining. The actor, Damon Gameau, decided to consume the equivalent of 40 teaspoons of sugar each day for two months while consuming foods that are commonly perceived to be healthy. He did not drink soft drinks and he didn’t have any confectionery, ice-cream or other junk foods. He only ate foods that many people consider to be healthy but are actually not, because they’re high in sugar. Examples include some breakfast cereals, low fat yoghurt, fruit juice and muesli bars.

During the course of the experiment, Damon was medically supervised by a team which included Dr Ken Sikaris from Melbourne Pathology, who conducted his blood tests. Dr Sikaris was shocked that after just 18 days Damon had developed a fatty liver. One of his liver enzymes was raised and Dr Sikaris explained this means his liver cells are dying. Fortunately at the end of the experiment Damon returned to his regular healthy, sugar free diet and his liver health returned to normal.

Have you had a liver function test recently?

It’s important to monitor the health of your liver from time to time. We place a lot of emphasis on liver health because the liver is such a metabolically busy organ. It performs hundreds of functions in your body, and if it’s not healthy your health can seriously suffer. Luckily the liver has a remarkable ability to heal itself, but it can only cope with so much before a serious health problem develops.

The ingredients in Livatone Shots have been used in traditional European herbal medicine to assist with liver detoxification.

Ma, J; Fox, CS; Jacques, PF; Speliotes, EK; Hoffmann, U; Smith, CE; Saltzman, E; and McKeown, NM. (2015, June 5). Sugar-Sweetened Beverage, Diet Soda, and Fatty Liver Disease in the Framingham Study Cohorts. Journal of Hepatology.

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