According to the American Beverage Association, nearly 30 percent of the total beverages consumed in 2005 were carbonated soft drinks, easily making soda America’s most popular drink. Anyone concerned with the health of their liver should read this article to learn why soda should not be their drink of choice.
The market is tremendous, yet most are unaware of the health implications of drinking soft drinks. Research shows that in addition to contributing to obesity, osteoporosis and tooth decay, soda’s primary ingredient perpetuates the rising epidemic of liver disease.
Soft Drink Ingredients
The potential harm lurks in soda’s dominant ingredient and how it is processed by the body. A typical can of soda contains some or most of the following:
- High fructose corn syrup – will be discussed below in further detail.
- Aspartame (in diet soft drinks) – is a potent neurotoxin, which increases the burden on the liver. See the article 5 Surprisingly Toxic Items to Your Liver for more information on how aspartame affects the liver.
- Caffeine – can over-stimulate the adrenal gland, leading to adrenal exhaustion, blood pressure elevation, headaches and kidney problems. If you’re drinking soda to increase energy levels, consider taking an energy supplement, that is a safe and fast-acting way to enhance energy without a crash.
- Phosphoric acid – is responsible for giving soda its kick, and has been singled out for causing tooth decay, calcium loss and eventually, osteoporosis.
Instead of sucrose (natural sugar), the sugar contained in most soft drinks is high fructose corn syrup. Made from cornstarch, high fructose corn syrup is a thick liquid that contains two basic sugar building blocks, fructose and glucose. “An advantage of high fructose corn syrup is that it tastes sweeter than refined sugar; making it a popular ingredient for food manufacturers because it enables them to use less”, says George A. Bray, former director of Louisiana State University’s Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge.
According to the American Beverage Association (ABA), the syrup is easier to blend into beverages than refined sugar. In the 1980s, manufacturing methods improved, prompting a boost in production of high fructose corn syrup and a drop in price to just pennies below that of refined sugar. “While that may not sound like much to the average consumer, when you consider how many pounds [the soft drink industry buys], it was millions of dollars if not hundreds of millions of dollars in savings,” says Drew Davis, ABA’s vice president for federal affairs. The switch made economic sense and, as Davis notes, “back then, there was no suggestion that high fructose corn syrup was metabolized differently” than other sugars.
However, recent research suggests that there are some unexpected nutritional consequences of using high fructose corn syrup. Consumption of glucose kicks off a cascade of natural biochemical reactions.
- increases production of insulin by the pancreas, enabling sugar in the blood to be transported into cells where it can be used for energy.
- increases the production of leptin, a hormone that helps regulate appetite and fat storage.
- suppresses production of another hormone made by the stomach, ghrelin, which regulates food intake. It has been theorized that when ghrelin levels drop, as they do after eating carbohydrates composed of glucose, hunger declines.
Fructose is metabolized differently, behaving more like fat in regards to body weight regulation.
Fructose does NOT:
- stimulate insulin secretion.
- increase leptin production.
- suppress production of ghrelin.
The differences between the two sugars suggest that consuming a lot of fructose, like consuming too much fat, contributes to weight gain. Dr. Adrian Di Bisceglie, chair of the public policy committee for the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD) and professor of internal medicine at St. Louis University, noted that the epidemic of obesity has been partly to blame for the increasing prevalence of liver disease in the US.
Proof Announced at the annual meeting of the AASLD, animal test results from the University of Hohenheim in Germany lend credence to the belief that sugary soft drinks play a role in the development of liver disease. The trial tested the effect of sugar water on the livers of mice, while a comparison group of mice were fed artificially sweetened water. Examination of their livers showed an increased incidence of fatty liver disease, especially among mice that were given water sweetened with fructose. Upon dissection, the animals on high-fructose diets had livers that looked similar to those of alcoholics. The researchers concluded that high fructose consumption may be directly toxic to the liver.
In separate studies, scientists at the University of California in Berkeley and the University of Cincinnati have also confirmed that consuming large amounts of fructose skews the American diet toward metabolic changes encouraging fat storage. This is likely due to the long-term absorption of fructose, causing enzyme adaptations that increase fat and VLDL (bad cholesterol) formation. These changes lead to high triglycerides in the blood, decreased glucose tolerance and excessive amounts of insulin in the blood. In addition to promoting obesity and fatty liver disease, this physiological shift primes the body for insulin resistance and eventually, diabetes development.
The increasing prevalence of liver disease in the United States and the increased consumption of high fructose corn syrup used in soda appear to be more than coincidental. In light of the metabolic impact high fructose corn syrup has on the liver, anyone concerned with liver health should consider adding a natural liver support supplement to their diet as well as find an alternate drink of choice.
Squires, Sally, Sweet but not so Innocent?, The Washington Post, March 2003.
www.ajcn.org, Consumption of high-fructose corn syrup in beverages may play a role in the epidemic of obesity, George A Bray, Samara Joy Nielsen and Barry M Popkin, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, April 2004.
www.ameribev.org, Our Favorite Beverages: What America Drinks, American Beverage Association, 2006.
www.ghc.health.com, Soft Drinks – America, Judith Valentine, PhD, CNA, CNC, Global Healing Center, Inc., 2006.
www.liverfoundation.org, High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) and its Potential Role in Fatty Liver Disease, Raphael Merriman, MD, American Liver Foundation, July 2006.
www.medicalnewstoday.com, New link between soft drinks and weight gain, University of Cincinnati, MediLexicon International, Ltd., July 2005.
www.menshealth.co.uk, Fructose in Soft Drinks May Be Fuelling Upsurge in Liver Disease, Global News Services Ltd., November 2006.
www.mercola.com, How Soft Drinks Damage Your Liver, Dr. Joseph Mercola, 2006.
www.sciam.com, Sugar Intake May Hurt Liver, Karla Gale, Reuters Health, November 2006.
www.zmag.com, Coke: Hazardous Even without Pesticides, Vandana Shiva, Znet, September 2003.