Children who eat less sugar have healthier livers
04/18/2019 // Michelle Simmons // Views

Giving your children sweet treats may seem like the easiest way to get them to do what you ask, but you may be putting their health at risk by doing that. Consumption of added sugars is known to be harmful to a person's health, regardless of age. For this reason, health experts discourage consuming these sugars. In a new study, researchers found that children who consume less sugar were more likely to have healthier livers than those who consume more. In particular, the study found that children with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) experienced improvements in their condition after cutting back on free sugars in their diet -- sugars found in sweetened foods and drinks and in naturally sweet fruit juices.

A team of U.S. researchers carried out a randomized clinical study of adolescent boys with NAFLD to determine whether restricting dietary free sugars would reduce fatty liver disease. NAFLD is the most common liver disease in children. It is also associated with an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, end-stage liver disease, liver cancer, and Type 2 diabetes. (Related: Fatty liver disease on the rise in children—from too many sweet treats.)

For the study, the research team recruited 40 boys aged 11 to 16 years with NAFLD. They randomly assigned the boys to either the intervention group or the control group. Half of the boys and their families adhered to a diet low in free sugars and less than three percent of daily caloric intake for eight weeks, while the other half retained their usual diets. The research team conducted telephone calls twice a week to assess the participants' adherence to the diet. They measured the changes in fatty liver disease using magnetic resonance imaging proton density fat fraction measurement, which is a method to measure fat in the liver. In addition, they also measured 12 secondary outcomes.


The results showed that the boys who restricted their sugar intake experienced a reduction in NAFLD from 25 percent to 17 percent, while those who retained their usual diets had a reduction in NAFLD from 21 percent to 20 percent. The former group also experienced greater reductions in alanine aminotransferase level, which measures liver enzymes and liver function, and cholesterol levels compared to the latter group. Moreover, the intervention group had a high adherence to the diet as 19 out of 20 participants and families reported intake of less than three percent of calories from free sugar during the intervention period. There were also no adverse events reported related to their participation in the study.

"Our study shows that children and their families can follow a diet low in free sugars for up to eight weeks when the research team plans, purchases and provides all meals. Although this would not be widely practical, it shows that this kind of intervention reduces NAFLD biomarkers at least in the short term," said Jeffrey Schwimmer, M.D., professor of clinical pediatrics at the University of California San Diego and one of the researchers of the study.

From these findings, which were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, the research team concluded that if children with NAFLD reduced their sugar intake, both fat and inflammation in the liver would improve. They also suggested that further research is needed to determine long-term and clinical outcomes.

Sugar affects children's psychological health as well

Children who eat too much sugar are also more likely to have mental health problems. One study demonstrated a strong link between daily candy consumption in 10-year-old kids and violence in later life. The researchers speculated that this phenomenon is associated with parents using candy to control their children's behavior, which interrupts children's way of learning to delay gratification. Other studies show that not being able to delay gratification is related to delinquency. In addition to giving children too much sugar, candy also has harmful additives that have been associated with behavioral issues.

Visit to learn more about the adverse effects of added sugars in children's overall health.

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