‘America’s silent epidemic’ has a very common -- and avoidable -- cause

It’s a disease that was almost unheard of a few decades ago.

But now, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, is striking adults — even kids — in record numbers.

Up to 35 percent of people in the U.S. are said to have it, and hospitals are running out of healthy livers to use in transplants.

“America’s silent epidemic” has researchers burning the midnight oil looking for a way to diagnose it before it’s too late. Doctors at the Boston University Medical Center think they may have come up with a new, non-surgical way to check patients for liver fat, the hallmark of the disease.

But other experts have been looking at ways to prevent NAFLD in the first place.

And all it might take is ditching a common — and very toxic — ingredient from your diet.

Sweet and deadly

Patty Vila had no idea her liver — and her life — were in such jeopardy.

She was just 47 years old when she went to the hospital complaining that she was feeling sick — and learned that she was in the early stages of NAFLD.

That’s a condition where dangerous levels of fat begin to build up in your liver — and you don’t need to be middle-aged or a senior to get it. Kids as young as three are now being diagnosed!

Of course, with the word “fatty” in it, you might think NAFLD is a consequence of being obese.

But being overweight isn’t the only driving force behind NAFLD, and its deadly progression to an even more serious condition called NASH (more on that in a minute). Numerous studies have found that getting fatty deposits on your liver has everything to do with how much fructose you consume — even if you’re not carrying around any extra pounds at all.

Yes, fructose — as in high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and other deadly sweeteners added to innocent-looking foods and beverages.

While millions are now walking around with no clue that they have NAFLD, once it progresses to NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) they’re in for a rude awakening. NASH can cause cirrhosis of the liver with the same deadly consequences as those caused by alcoholism.

It’s believed that around a quarter of those who have NAFLD, even children, will progress to NASH. Right now, so many are in need of a liver transplant because of this condition that hospitals have run out of suitable livers to use. There has even been research done about how to “de-fat” available donated livers.

So with so many in such grave danger, what exactly is being done about it?

For the most part, it’s become a blame game, trying to pin the tail on obesity, diabetes and even genetics.

But numerous researchers have been following the trail right to fructose. And I’m not just talking about soda here. You could have long ago given up that soda habit and still be taking in giant amounts of the sweetener.

For example:

  • HFCS is currently found in all kinds of foods and drinks, not just soda — and not just products that are sweet.
  • Trying to disguise HFCS, some food manufacturers have started using an even more dangerous variety of the sweetener, called in the industry HFCS-90 (for 90 percent fructose). But they’ve dropped the HFCS part and just call it “fructose,” as if it was an all-natural ingredient from fruit. And nothing could be further from the truth.
  • Then there’s “fruit sugar,” another ingredient you need to avoid. Even if derived from fruit, which is highly unlikely (it typically comes from genetically-modified corn), it will still give you a dangerous jolt of fructose.
  • Additional doses of fructose can come from things like crystalline fructose and agave, which are around 99 percent fructose.

All those are a far cry from the natural fructose contained in fruit — the real kind, such as apples, peaches and pears — which is “packaged” in a way that slows its absorption and allows you to digest it in a much healthier manner.

“New tool to identify persons with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease” Boston University Medical Center, July 13, 2016, EurekAlert!, eurekalert.org