Researchers are now urging parents to cut back on their children’s consumption of fizzy drinks as well as reducing fresh fruit juices substituting them for water.
Liver damage is normally associated with alcohol abuse but the new study has found that non-alcoholic drinks with a high sugar content can cause a condition called fatty liver disease.
Scientists from Israel found that people who drank a litre of fizzy drinks and fresh fruit juices were five times more likely to develop fatty liver disease.
Even drinking a couple of cans of fizzy drinks a day raised the risk of liver damage in addition to causing diabetes and heart damage.
Doctors at the Ziv Liver unit in Haifa, Israel compared two groups of volunteers – neither of whom had a risk for developing fatty liver disease.
The group of 90 people, 45 men and 45 women aged 40-50, were asked about their level of physical activity, caloric intake and the amount of soft drinks they consume.
When they finished the study they found that 80% of those who had consumed fizzy drinks and fruit juices had fatty liver changes. But only 17% of the control group who had not drunk fizzy drinks developed fatty livers.
Dr Nimer Assy, who led the study, said his research – published in the Journal of Hepatology – showed long term consumption could result in liver failure and the potential need for a transplant
“We found people who drink more than two cans of Coke a day have increased their chances for a fatty liver, and if left untreated their chances for heart disease and cirrhosis of the liver also increase,” he said.
The ingredient in fizzy drinks causing the damage is fructose, which is highly absorbable in the liver. It does not affect insulin production and goes straight to the liver where it is converted to fat.
Although there is inconclusive evidence on diet drinks, he believes those containing artificial sweetener may have a similar effect.
“While diet drinks do not contain fructose, they do have aspartame and caramel colourants: Both these can increase insulin resistance and may induce fatty liver.”
He said parents would be better replacing the juice in their children’s lunch boxes with a bottle of water or limiting their children’s fizzy drink intake to no more than one can a day.
The Daily Telegraph