Why Sugar-Sweetened Drinks are Harmful


About 65 percent of North American adults drink sugar-sweetened beverages every day (NCHS Data Brief, No 270, 2017). Two recent studies show how sugared drinks are associated with liver damage and kidney stones:

• A study of nearly 100,000 postmenopausal women followed for an average of more than 20 years found that compared to women who had fewer than three sugar-sweetened drinks per month, those who drank one or more sugar-sweetened beverages per day had an 85 percent increased risk for liver cancer and 68 percent increased risk for death from chronic liver disease, such as liver scarring, cirrhosis, alcoholic liver diseases, fatty liver and chronic hepatitis (JAMA, 2023 Aug 9, (6):537-546).

• A study of more than 28,000 North American adults found that those who ate 25 percent or more of their daily calories from added sugars had the highest rate of kidney stones (Front Nutr, Aug 4, 2023). Kidney stones contain calcium, and many studies have shown that a high-sugar intake markedly increases the loss of calcium in the urine. Sugar added to foods and drinks contributes to weight gain, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and diabetes, all of which are associated with increased risk for kidney stones.

Why Storing Excess Fat in Your Liver is Harmful
If you have a fat belly and fat hips, you may not be in trouble. However, if you have fat in your belly and little fat in your hips, that shows that you store most of your fat in and around your organs such as the liver and heart. Storing fat in your liver leads to diabetes (Ann Epidemiol, May 2011;21(5):358-366). Just having very narrow hips is a risk factor for diabetes, even if you do not have a large belly (J Intern Med, Nov 1997;242(5):401-6).

Your liver controls blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels rise, your pancreas releases large amounts of insulin, which is supposed to lower high blood sugar levels by driving sugar from your bloodstream into your liver. However, when you have excess fat in your liver, your liver does not accept the sugar, so blood sugar levels remain high. Worse, a fatty liver releases sugar from its cells to drive blood sugar levels even higher.

High blood sugar levels cause sugar to stick to the outer membranes of cells throughout your body. Once stuck on a cell surface membrane, sugar cannot get off. It is eventually converted by a series of chemical reactions to sorbitol that destroys the cell. This is the process that causes the side effects of diabetes: blindness, deafness, heart attacks, kidney damage, impotence, loss of feeling in your feet and so forth.

How Drinks with Sugar Can Cause a Fatty Liver
The highest rises in blood sugar come from sugared drinks (Circulation, March 23, 2010;121(11). This includes fruit juices and milk as well as sugared soft drinks and coffee or tea with sugar. Foods made with added sugars also cause high blood sugar levels. When blood sugar levels rise, sugar is used for energy and a small amount is stored in your muscles and your liver. After that, excess sugar in your bloodstream is immediately converted to a type of fat called triglycerides (BMC Med, Apr 3, 2023; 21: 123). Just minutes after taking a sugared drink, your blood triglycerides rise. The triglycerides are then stored in fat cells, muscles and in the liver itself.

Your doctor can order a picture of your liver called a liver sonogram. If it shows excess fat in your liver, you probably already have pre-diabetes or diabetes. Fat in liver cells destroys the liver cells and replaces them with scar tissue. When this happens, doctors call it NASH (Non-Alcoholic Steato Hepatitis). Because NASH can destroy the liver, patients may require a liver transplant. Alcohol can also destroy liver cells and fill them with fat, so alcohol also causes a fatty liver. Twenty to thirty percent of North American adults have extra fat in their liver that can cause diabetes, liver failure and liver cancer.

How to Get Rid of Fat in Your Liver
You can’t remove excess fat from your liver just with drugs. To cure a fatty liver, you need to:
• Lose weight, particularly in your belly. Your goal is to be able to pinch less than an inch of fat under the skin on your belly. See Intermittent Fasting for my recommendations
• Avoid sugared drinks and sugar-added foods
• Restrict red meat (blocks insulin receptors)
• Eat lots of vegetables, nuts and fruit
• Exercise every day
• Get blood levels of hydroxy vitamin D above 30 ng/mL

See Fatty Liver Can Cause Diabetes, Heart Attacks and Cancers