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Research Shows Substituting Artificially-Sweetened Beverages for Sugary Beverages May Have Beneficial Effects on Liver Metabolic Health

February 23, 2016

New study finds improvement in liver cell lipid concentration among overweight or obese individuals who use artificially -sweetened beverages in place of sugar-sweetened ones

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common medical condition frequently caused by obesity, affecting up to 25 percent of U.S. adults, with three million new cases annually, according to the American Liver Foundation.[1] A key intervention in NAFLD is lowering serum triglyceride levels, including limiting simple carbohydrates and foods that are high in added sugars.[2] New clinical research, recently published in Obesity, revealed a significant improvement in liver cell lipid concentration – a key measure of NAFLD – in overweight individuals when they switched from a high consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs) to artificially-sweetened beverages (ASBs). The researchers say the results suggest that “substituting ASBs for SSBs may have beneficial effects on liver metabolic health.”[3]

This study was conducted among overweight and obese men and women (BMI of >25) who consumed two or more 22-oz. SSBs (carbonated soft drinks and sugar-sweetened tea) daily. Study participants were randomly assigned to consume their habitual SSB intake, or replace their habitual SSB intake with artificially-sweetened beverages, for 12 weeks. The study found that among participants consuming artificially-sweetened beverages, total energy, carbohydrate and sugar intakes were significantly decreased at the end of the 12 week trial, while the group who continued drinking sugar-sweetened beverages showed no difference in those intakes. These decreases were accompanied by a significant reduction (26 percent on average) in intrahepatocellular lipid concentrations (IHCL), and the “effect was more important in participants with high IHCL and visceral adipose tissue volume (VAT).” [3]

“This study is important in light of the obesity epidemic and the associated rapid rise in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” said Maureen Conway, MBA, MA, RD, LDN, FAND, Director of Nutrition and Professional Affairs for Heartland Food Products Group, the maker of Splenda Sweetener Products. “Low-calorie sweeteners, like Splenda, can be an easy tool to incorporate into nutritional therapies for reducing the intake of simple carbohydrates and added sugars in an effort to reduce serum triglycerides. Importantly, this study suggests that switching to artificially-sweetened beverages may be of significant importance to liver health in overweight individuals who frequently consume sugar-sweetened beverages.”

Research investigating how dietary sugar restriction affects markers of NAFLD has been limited to date. These findings come in light of growing concern among health and scientific experts that overconsumption of added sugars can result in numerous adverse health effects. In fact, earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Health and Human Services (HHS) released the 2015 – 2020 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGA), and one of the key recommendations of the guidelines is to limit added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories per day.

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[1]“NAFLD,” American Liver Foundation: and “Fast Facts about Liver Disease,” 2015 International Liver Congress:

[2]“Treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease,” Therapeutics and Clinical Risk: Management:

[3]Obesity (2015) 23, 2335-2339. doi:10.1002/oby.21310