Many people think of liver disease as an affliction of alcoholics and the elderly – but this myth is leaving out a major part of the story. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is on the rise, and its target? Young people. Let’s find out why swathes of youths are reporting cases of the dangerous disease.
What is non-alcoholic liver disease?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease a condition in which excess fat accumulates in the liver, causing inflammation and damage. It’s not caused by alcohol consumption, but rather by other factors like obesity, insulin resistance and a poor diet. There are two types:
- Simple fatty liver: This is the most common form, where there is excess fat in the liver, but no inflammation or damage. Simple fatty liver typically does not cause any symptoms and is not considered a serious condition.
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): This is a more severe form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, where there is excess fat in the liver, as well as inflammation and damage. NASH can cause symptoms such as fatigue, abdominal pain, and jaundice, and can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and liver failure if left untreated.
Why are young people coming down with liver disease?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease often occurs as a result of excess fructose intake, and it affects a whopping 25% of the population. Fructose is a type of sugar which, unlike glucose, cannot be broken down further by the body. The issue here is that it requires the liver to put the hard yards in to metabolise it – and while, in reasonable amounts, out liver can handle this task, things can turn a little pear-shaped when we overwhelm it. When the liver is overwhelmed by fructose, it starts converting this sugar to fat, leading to a build-up of fat in the liver – visceral fat. Alarmingly, one study in the US found 12% of children with the condition, with the condition only slated to keep growing alongside our ultra-processed, sugar-laden diets. It’s projected to become the leading cause of late-stage liver disease within the next decade. So, while many of us are cautiously limiting our alcohol intake, we might not realise the other offender right under our noses – sugar. And it’s everywhere. From store-bought bread and cereal to the usual suspects like chocolate, it can be hard to escape this stuff. But the sobering evidence of its effects on our liver may be motivation enough to keep a watch on our sugar intake. According to research, between 25 and 40 grams of fructose is a safe daily intake. To put that into perspective, that could include an apple, a pear and a cup of cherries. With some less conservative recommendations as high as 80 grams, your choice will depend on your individual health circumstances. Those with fructose malabsorption are advised to keep their intake low, while others might also be looking to lower their fructose consumption for their health goals – though it’s worth noting that whole fruit is rich in fibre, which plays a role in slowing the absorption of the fructose, putting us at a lower risk of developing visceral fat. Fruit juice, on the other hand, is a sure-fire way to get all the negatives of fructose and little of the benefits of whole fruits, as much of the fibre is lost in the process.
Another major reason for this jump in cases is linked to our rising obesity rates. These two diseases are more closely linked than we may realise. The state of obesity around the globe is concerning – particularly childhood obesity. We’ve got 1 in 6 Aussie kids and over 1.9 billion people around the globe living with the condition. Studies have found a direct link between obesity and excessive fructose consumption, due to the promotion of visceral fat – this is the dangerous kind which wraps around the abdominal organs – including the liver – leaving us vulnerable to a number of health conditions, like liver disease.
But quitting sugar isn’t easy. Excessive sugar intake can have long-term consequences like leptin resistance. Leptin is the hormone that signals satiety to the brain, and without this, many are left unable to suppress their appetite. Plus, we know sugar is addictive – it starts when dopamine is released in the brain in response to the sugar, which has been found to evoke a stronger reward response than drugs like cocaine. Many get caught up in a cycle of dopamine-seeking behaviour, and children and young people have less power to fight it, considering their prefrontal cortex hasn’t fully developed yet, meaning their impulse control is inhibited. This is another reason why so many people are developing liver disease – with high-sugar, ultra-processed foods more available than ever, and our brains wired to seek out that dopamine hit, perhaps it’s no wonder that so many youths are getting hooked on the sweet stuff and suffering the consequences.
So, what can you do about a sugar addiction?
Prioritising whole foods and getting daily exercise are vital in the fight against sugar addiction and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Think whole veggies, fruit, whole grains, legumes and fermented foods. It’s no secret that a sugar habit is a tough one to beat – wherever you go, sugar is there. Unlike with ditching alcohol, there are few places where sugar is unwelcome. From birthday parties and functions to the office pantry, Sunday markets and the supermarket. Is it any wonder that so many of us find it hard to quit the stuff? That’s why it can help to join a program like ours – our 8-Week Program is based on accountability, support and providing the essential resources to set you up for success. We’ll help you change the way you look at food – and that doesn’t mean you have to follow restrictive diets or miss out on your favourite foods; we believe you can still enjoy delicious food without jeopardising your health. With celebrity chef Sarah Glover on our panel of experts, you’ll have an array of fun recipes at your fingertips, along with our own exclusive armoury of simple, tasty and healthy recipes for everything from daily meals to impressive entertaining.
We know it can be hard to stick to your health goals – especially when you’re trying to manage it alone. When you sign up with us, you’ll have access to clear-cut meal plans, community support and exclusive access to our sugar-free content. Here’s what’s on offer:
- 8 weeks of meal plans and shopping lists.
- 90+ member-only recipes.
- Community forums to share your journey.
- Support and guidance from the I Quit Sugar team.
- Exclusive content from our panel of experts.
So, if you’re ready to ditch sugar and the host of maladies that come with it, it’s not too late to join. We’d love to help you get started on your health journey. Sign up HERE today!