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Fatty liver: The sweetener known to cause scarring of the liver that's 'as damaging as alcohol'

Several studies have highlighted the dangers of some sweeteners for the liver, suggesting that they may be as damaging as alcohol.

Fatty liver disease can put the organ at serious risk causing irreversible scarring in some advanced cases.

While alcohol is one of the main culprits in liver disease, the effect of certain sweeteners has been found to be equally damaging.

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Fructose, a naturally occurring sugar, can sneak into diets through syrup unbeknownst to people and has been linked to organ scarring in some cases.

Lump sugar in a transparent glass sugar bowl, on a wooden table or background, at home, in a cafe, cafeteria or restaurant. The concept of poor nutrition and lifestyle. (gettyimages.ie)

The dangers of refined sugars to our health are well-known, but not all sugars cause equal harm.

WebMD explains: "Too much sugar isn't just bad for your teeth. It can harm your liver too.

"The organ uses one type of sugar, called fructose, to make fat. Too much refined sugar and high-fructose corn syrup cause a fatty build-up that can lead to liver disease.

"Some studies show that sugar can be as damaged the liver as alcohol, even if you're not overweight."

There are a whole host of sweeteners packed in fizzy drinks, pastries and sweets, but chief among them is high-fructose corn syrup.

The syrup has long been linked to an increased risk of non-alcohol fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

In earlier research published in 2010, however, excessive consumption of high fructose was directly associated with scarring in the liver among patients with fatty liver.

Manal Abdelmalek, associate professor of medicine in the Division of Gastroenterology/Hepatology at Duke University, said at the time: "We found that increased consumption of high fructose corn syrup was associated with scarring in the liver, or fibrosis, among patients with NAFLD."

In NAFLD, too much fat is stored inside the liver cells, preventing the organ from carrying out normal tasks.

The eventual outcome of this is liver inflammation and liver damage, which result in more aggressive disease.

High fructose corn syrup causes damage when it build-ups inside the liver, as it is then used to create fat through a process known as lipogenesis.

There is evidence that this can induce cirrhosis - the medical term for late-stage scarring in the liver.

According to the Mayo Clinic, scarring of the liver can set the stage for several other complications, including a build-up of fluids in the abdomen and swelling in the veins of the oesophagus.

Signs that the liver is scarring can include confusion, drowsiness, or slurred speech.

What is fructose?

All carbohydrates constitute simple sugars, known as monosaccharides, such as glucose, galactose and fructose.

Fructose is a naturally occurring sugar found primarily in fruits, but it is also a key component of table sugar.

Some key dangers of excess fructose lie in its ability to impair the composition of blood lipids.

Not only does it raise the levels of very low-density lipoprotein, but it can also lead to an accumulation of fat around the organs.

By increasing blood levels of uric acid, the body could be at greater risk of health issues relating to high blood pressure.

Fortunately, there is evidence that the addition of healthy foods and beverages can lower the risk of chronic liver disease.

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