Can High Fructose Corn Syrup Cause Liver Scarring?

In a recent report by Dr. Mercola, he alleges that high fructose corn syrup might cause fibrosis (or scarring) in the liver. His report, featured in the March 23, 2010 edition of Science Daily, describes a study conducted with a test group of 400 adults all of whom had non-alcoholic liver disease, all of whom succumbed to liver biopsies for this test. The study found that 81% of the patients consumed high fructose corn syrup-containing beverages. Is this a coincidence, or is fructose truly damaging to the liver?

Many different lifestyle choices can result in poor health. The liver, as the body’s filter, can take quite a beating. The people in the aforementioned study all had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is a condition where fat accumulates in the liver as a result of substances other than alcohol. Alcohol abuse causes fat to accumulate in the liver as well, and also causes cirrhosis. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease has symptoms like abdomen pain, fatigue, and sometimes jaundice, like many other liver diseases, but the tricky thing about it is that without a definite cause like alcohol, it is hard to tell what caused the condition.

The Mayo Clinic says that the risk factors for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are high cholesterol, high levels of triglycerides in the blood, malnutrition, obesity, and the ingestion of toxins and chemicals. These risk factors are all health conditions that can cause disease, and are usually a result of lifestyle choices. Obesity is most often caused by poor food choices, lack of exercise, and leading a sedentary lifestyle. High cholesterol is also very indicative of bad food choices. This lends credence to the idea that the consumption of high fructose corn syrup can cause buildup on the liver. Since it exists in so many foods and beverages, an individual who does not choose fresh fruits and vegetables over processed foods will likely encounter high fructose corn syrup several times per week, if not per day.

Further support for the idea that high fructose corn syrup can cause a fatty liver lies in the risk factor of toxins and chemicals. There has been a lot of fuss in the media regarding the corn syrup debate. Some restaurants have proudly announced that they no longer use high fructose corn syrup. “Sugar” has become, instead of the dirty word it used to be, a new indicator of a “healthier” product. Obviously, this has the corn refining industry up in arms. No corn syrup production hurts business. They’ve gone on record saying that corn syrup is no different than sugar in terms of nutritional value, and that because it is made with corn it is a natural product.

The USDA has a different opinion. They say that while some forms of high fructose corn syrup might be “natural,” most are processed with some sort of chemical, and therefore cannot be considered completely natural. One of these chemicals used is glutaralhyde – an organic substance used not only to tan leather, but also to clean dental and medical instruments. It is toxic. So, if one were to consume a large amount of high fructose corn syrup, they are likely going to encounter plenty that is processed using chemicals – which can damage the liver.

The last risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease that the Mayo Clinic highlights (that we’ll talk about here) is malnutrition. High fructose corn syrup, like many sweeteners, is full of calories but almost completely devoid of nutritional value. That means one can be obese, with high cholesterol, and still be malnourished. In fact, those conditions are certainly indicative of malnutrition. So perhaps there is something to Dr. Mercola’s report. It certainly makes one want to err on the side of caution and choose a healthier lifestyle with a focus on wellness, health, and proper nutrition.