Sugar and the liver: what you need to know

Posted on: 22nd January 2020

We all know that too much sugar is bad for our general health. But not many people understand the impact that sugar has on the liver.

Too much sugar can cause obesity, and being obese is a contributing factor for liver disease.

In fact, non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is likely to overtake alcohol as the leading caused of liver disease in the next few years (1).

However, only 34% of people link being overweight with liver disease (2), compared to over 80% who understand the link between excess weight and heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes.

So what actually happens to the liver when we eat too much sugar?

Sugar turns into fat

When we eat a meal containing sugar, our bodies break it down into glucose. Our body uses some of the glucose immediately, for energy, and saves some of it for later. Any excess glucose in the blood is turned into fat cells.

The liver is one of the places in our bodies that stores this excess fat. Over time, liver cells are gradually replaced by fat cells, leading to non-alcohol related fatty liver disease .

Sugar and inflammation

When we eat sugar, our bodies also release inflammatory chemicals. If we eat sugar on a regular basis, the chemicals build up in our bodies affecting our liver and some other internal organs, which can eventually lead to liver damage.

When the liver is damaged, fatty or inflamed, it can’t work as efficiently as a healthy liver. It can’t process toxins and eliminate toxins from our body. It also burns less excess fat and cholesterol, leading to even more fatty deposits in the liver and weight gain.

Reverse the cycle

Thankfully, in most cases, by making a few changes to our lifestyle we can repair and reverse any damage done to our liver by eating too much sugar.

By eating lots of fruit and vegetables, and exercising regularly, the liver will gradually regenerate.

If you'd like to find out whether you're at risk of liver disease, you can take our quick online screener.