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One Major Side Effect of Eating Sugar, Says Science

This treat isn't always so sweet when it comes to your health.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

Whether you haven't been able to give up your soda habit or you make dessert a part of your daily meal plan, it likely comes as no surprise that refined sugar isn't exactly a healthy addition to your diet.

In addition to causing spikes in blood glucose, which can lead to hunger and cravings, sugar is widely known to be linked to obesity and tooth decay. In fact, diets that are high in sugar are frequently lacking in other essential nutrients as highly palatable sugary foods crowd out healthier fare in a person's diet. (See: Side Effects of Eating Too Much Sugar, Say Dietitians.)

However, there's one major side effect of eating sugar that even folks with a serious sweet tooth probably don't know about: Eating sugar is a strong predictor of liver disease.

"When you eat sugar, it rapidly absorbs into the bloodstream and causes an increase in blood glucose. This rapid increase in blood glucose causes the pancreas to release insulin. Regular spikes in blood glucose and insulin, due to regular overconsumption of sugar, will lead to inflammation and non-alcoholic fatty liver," says Alicia Galvin, RD, resident dietitian at Sovereign Laboratories. According to a 2018 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Hepatology, excessive consumption of sugar—and sugar-sweetened beverages in particular—was a strong predictor of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Fortunately, cutting down on the amount of sugar in your diet may significantly reduce the damage caused by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. According to a 2019 study published in JAMA, among boys between ages 11 and 16 with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, adopting an 8-week low-sugar diet significantly improved their condition.

The development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease isn't the only serious side effect eating sugar can have on this vital organ, however. According to a 2017 meta-analysis published in the journal Oncotarget, elevated blood glucose is significantly linked to the development of liver cancer, particularly among individuals with diabetes and pre-diabetes.

If you want to play it safe and protect your liver health both now and in the future, cutting back on your daily sugar intake is a great place to start. Need some extra incentive to dial back those desserts? Just check out these Side Effects of Giving Up Sugar, According to Science.

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Sarah Crow
Sarah Crow is a senior editor at Eat This, Not That!, where she focuses on celebrity news and health coverage. Read more
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