A study examining the relationship between sugar-sweetened beverage (SSB) consumption and liver health among premenopausal women has reportedly found that habitual, moderate intake “may elicit hepatic lipogenesis.” Maya Shimony, et al., “The relationship between sugarsweetened beverages and liver enzymes among healthy premenopausal women: a prospective cohort study,” European Journal of Nutrition, March 2015. Relying on data from a prospective cohort of 259 healthy women, researchers with the National Institutes of Health and George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health measured serum levels of alanine and aspartate aminotransferases (ALT and AST), biomarkers used to assess overall liver health.
The study claims that for every additional cup of SSB consumed and every 10-gram increase in added sugar and total fructose per day, “log ALT increased by 0.079 U/L (95 % CI 0.022, 0.137), 0.012 U/L (95 % CI 0.002, 0.022), and 0.031 (0.012, 0.050), respectively, and log AST increased by 0.029 U/L (-0.011, 0.069), 0.007 U/L (0.000, 0.014), and 0.017 U/L (0.004, 0.030), respectively.” Compared to women who drank less than 1.5 cups of SSB per day, those who consumed more than 1.5 cups apparently also had 13.5 percent higher ALT and 10.8 percent higher AST levels.
Meanwhile, University of California, San Francisco Pediatrics Professor Robert Lustig has penned a Los Angeles Times opinion piece lamenting the lack of labeling for added sugars. According to Lustig, “Sugar starts to fry your liver at about 35 pounds per year, just like alcohol would at the same dosage. This is because fructose—the sweet molecule of sugar—is metabolized in the liver just like alcohol… And we’re at 100 pounds per year, triple our limit. That is why children now get the diseases of alcohol consumption—type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease—without ever drinking alcohol.”
Lustig advocates that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) work together “to implement the USDA Dietary Guidelines Advisory Committee’s (DGAC) recommendation to limit added sugar consumption to 10% of total calories.” Urging FDA to adopt nutrition labeling changes that would specify the amount of added sugar in each product, Lustig criticizes food and beverage companies for viewing this information as proprietary. “If the DGAC’s recommendation becomes government policy, then the Nutrition Facts label will show that that a typical bowl of breakfast cereal provides 33% of the daily value for added sugar for adults, and a 12-ounce can of soda provides 90%,” claims Lustig. “If added sugars should only be 10% of total calories, the industry’s claim would wash away. It would be forced to reformulate.”