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How Sugar Can Fill Your Liver with Fat

A study this month shows how people who eat a lot of sugar can develop a liver full of fat that can lead to diabetes (Clin Sci (Lond), 2017 Sep 18). Twelve men with fatty livers who had not been diagnosed as being diabetic and the same number of non-diabetic men with normal livers were fed either a high sugar diet (26 percent sugar) or a low sugar diet (6 percent sugar) for 12 weeks. For the next 12 weeks, they were fed the opposite diet. Both those with normal livers and those with fatty livers showed adverse changes on the high-sugar diet, but the most marked changes occurred in the men who already had fatty livers. The men with fatty livers developed much higher blood levels of triglycerides and the small-particle-size fats that are characteristic of diabetes.

How a High Rise in Blood Sugar can Cause a Fatty Liver
Your blood sugar is expected to rise after you eat. To prevent your blood sugar level from rising too high, your pancreas releases insulin which is supposed to lower high blood sugar levels by driving sugar from the bloodstream into the liver (J Clin Inves, September 26, 2016). However, if your liver is full of fat, the excess fat prevents the liver from accepting the sugar and blood sugar levels can rise higher and higher (Eur J Gastroenterol Hepatol, Dec 2016;28(12):1443-1449).

When your blood sugar rises too high, the insulin released by your pancreas converts the sugar to a type of fat called triglycerides. HDL (good) cholesterol then carries the triglycerides to your liver where they are stored to cause a fatty liver. Thus diabetics are likely to have high blood levels of sugar, insulin and triglycerides, low levels of the good HDL cholesterol and a fatty liver (Atherosclerosis. Nov 17, 2016;256:15-20). High levels of triglycerides (>150) predict diabetes (Eur J Intern Med, 02/07/2014), and in diagnosed diabetics, high triglycerides predict increased risk of death (Diabetes Care, 017;40(4):529-537).

Do You Have Too Much Fat in your Liver?
More than 40 percent of Americans are diabetic or will suffer from the life-shortening effects of high blood sugar levels in the future. You are likely to have too much fat in your liver if you have a big belly and small hips. Your doctor can order a liver sonogram to determine if you have excess fat stored there (Nutrition, Metabolism & Cardiovascular Diseases, 12/30/2015). See Testing for a Fatty Liver
The Hidden Epidemic of Early Diabetes

How Do You Get the Fat out of Your Liver?
Exercise: A review of the world's literature shows that exercise can markedly reduce the amount of fat in your liver (World J Gastroenterol, Jul 21, 2016;22(27):6318-27). Exercise lowers blood sugar which then lowers triglycerides, the fat that gets deposited in your liver. Resting muscles draw almost no sugar from your bloodstream and the little that they do draw requires insulin to do so, while contracting muscles draw tremendous amounts of sugar from the bloodstream and don't even need insulin. This benefit is maximal during exercise and for up to an hour after you finish exercising, and tapers off in about 17 hours (Am J Clin Nutr, 2008(July);88(1):51-57). Exercise reduces liver fat even if a person does not lose weight (Metabolism, Mar 2017;68:119-132).

Diet: You can reduce the amount of fat in your liver by avoiding foods that cause a high rise in blood sugar, such as sugared drinks, sugar-added foods and all refined carbohydrates such as foods made from flour (bakery products and pasta). If you need to lose weight, I recommend intermittent fasting.
See Sugar-Added Foods Increase Diabetes Risk
Treat Diabetes with Diet and Exercise
Get Rid of Fat in the Liver to Cure Type II Diabetes

October 15th, 2017
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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