According to a recent report in Medical Xpress, over twenty studies have indicated escalating events of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in children worldwide. In the United States, NAFLD heads the list of chronic liver diseases. It affects one in ten children.
About NAFLD and NASH
NAFLD is defined by excess fat that is stored in the liver. Usually, children with simple fatty liver will not develop complications. However, NAFLD does put these children at a higher risk for other diseases such as diabetes.
NAFLD is caused by a high intake of sucrose (table sugar) and not exercising. Sucrose contains glucose and fructose found in fruits, dairy products, and vegetables but more often added to processed foods.
NASH, a form of NAFLD called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis is a chronic disorder that may lead to complications such as liver cancer and cirrhosis. If cirrhosis occurs, a liver transplant would be needed. Risk factors are obesity and history of the disease among family members.
Reducing Consumption of Added Sugars
Dr. Johanna DiStefano, head of TGen’s diabetes unit, led the study. Dr. DiStefano also led an earlier study that indicated fructose, which the liver converts into glucose, altered the function of normal cells and may cause liver disease.
The researchers suggest that if excessive sugar consumption is restricted in a child’s diet, the risk of NAFLD would be reduced.
Due to a lack of easily recognizable symptoms, it is difficult to diagnose NAFLD. It is assumed to be NAFLD if children are obese and exhibit abnormal liver enzymes in their blood samples. However, a biopsy would still be required for an accurate diagnosis.
But even with the most advanced imaging currently available, proper diagnosis is still inadequate.
Another author of this review, Dr. Gabriel Shaibi, stated that their work could ultimately result in tracking changes in liver health and identifying children who are at high risk for NAFLD.
The team acknowledges needing additional studies to understand the effects of overconsumption of fructose. Yet there is no doubt that reducing worldwide consumption of added sugars would bring about better overall health in our youth.