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Fatty liver disease (steatosis) is a condition in which excess fat builds up in your liver that can damage the organ and lead to serious complications. However, a high-fat diet is not alone responsible for this condition. A new study has linked intake of liquid fructose to fatty liver disease.
A high-fat diet when combined with the intake of beverages sweetened with liquid fructose can accelerate the accumulation of fats in the liver and trigger hypertriglyceridemia (a cardiovascular risk factor), explained the study published in the journal Molecular Nutrition and Food Research.
Fructose is a type of sugar known as a monosaccharide, which is industrially obtained from corn syrup. Because of low production costs, fructose is widely used in the food industry to sweeten beverages, sauces and processed foods, despite the scientific evidence linking it with metabolic diseases.
According to the new study, fructose can cause an increase in the synthesis of fatty acids in the liver and this effect is more decisive than the external introduction of fats through the diet.
As explained by the researchers, fructose intake can induce an increase in the de novo lipogenesis -- that is, the formation of fats through sugar -- and an inhibition of the lipid oxidation in the liver. In particular, this monosaccharide affects the expression and activity of the nuclear factor ChREBP, which once activated, causes an increase in the expression of enzymes that control the hepatic synthesis of fatty acids.
At the same time, it reduces the activity of the nuclear receptor PPARalfa, which plays key role in controlling the expression of genes that code the enzymes involved in the fatty acid oxidation (mitochondrial and peroxisome) in the liver.
The study on a mouse experimental model demonstrated that fatty liver is the result of the combination of the saturated fat from dietary origin and the induction of the endogen synthesis of fatty acids.
Furthermore, the study described for the first time that fructose -- unlike high-fat diets -- increases the expression of the PNPLA3 protein, which is associated with the appearance of hypertriglyceridemia, a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases.
Previous studies have linked consumption of drinks that are sweetened with fructose to the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). In NAFLD patients, de novo lipogenesis contributes up to a 30 per cent of hepatic lipids, compared to only the 5% in healthy people, the researchers noted.
The research team believes that the effects seen in animal model might appear in humans as well.
Currently, there is no specific pharmacological therapy for NAFLD. Unfortunately, the fatty liver can lead to more serious pathologies, such as steatohepatitis and cirrhosis. Usually, the condition is asymptomatic, although in some cases, some mild unspecific digestive disorders can appear.
"Apart from following a healthy diet and physical activity, there is no efficient treatment against this pathology for now," the researchers said. They hope that their findings may help in the development of drugs to treat the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
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