Why Sugar is as Bad as Alcohol (Fructose, The Liver Toxin)

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WHY Sugar is as Bad as Alcohol (Fructose, The Liver Toxin)
WHY Sugar is as Bad as Alcohol (Fructose, The Liver Toxin) Graphic © healthpowerboost.com. Background images: Unsplash and Pixabay (PD)

Did you know that fructose—which makes up around 50% of table sugar—is metabolized in the liver? And you know what else is metabolized in the liver? Alcohol and toxins. And just like alcohol, studies suggest that fructose can damage your liver. [1] These similarities have driven researchers and health-conscious consumers like Joseph Everett to draw parallels between the two compounds.

So, should you be concerned about the effects of sugar on your health?

Understanding Fructose

Fructose is a sugar that is responsible for the sweet taste of fruits. While fructose comes with healthy fiber and nutrients when consumed in its natural state (i.e., in fruits), the same cannot be said for the fructose in your table sugar.

In the process of extracting and concentrating fructose, manufacturers typically remove nutrients and fiber. Today fructose is found abundantly in nearly all added sugars, including table sugar, agave syrup, and high-fructose corn syrup. [2]

And with the mass production of refined sugar, humans now consume unhealthy levels of fructose that delivers empty carbs. This poses significant health concerns, with excess fructose consumption being linked to an increased risk of many modern diseases. [3] As such, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the consumption of fewer than 9 teaspoons of added sugar for men and 5 teaspoons for women. [4]

Why Sugar (Fructose) Is As Bad As Alcohol

The effects of fructose on our health have been compared to alcohol consumption—and it’s easy to see why. While table sugar often has equal portions of glucose and fructose, the two sugar are metabolized differently in the body.

Unlike glucose which can be used by every cell in your body, Everett notes that fructose can only be metabolized in the liver because it is not necessary for any biological process—and thus is treated as a foreign substance, similar to toxins like alcohol.

“Like alcohol, it [fructose] is not necessary for any biochemical reaction in the body. You don’t need it to survive,” says Everett. “It’s not metabolized in the brain, so it doesn’t get you drunk, but like alcohol and other toxins, it’s processed primarily in the liver. And frequent consumption of it leads to all sorts of health problems.”

But since the liver is a powerful organ, it can handle small amounts of fructose, such as when taking time to chew a fruit rich in fiber. The issue arises when we consume large quantities of fructose in added sugars. Without the fiber to slow the intestinal absorption rates, the liver can be overwhelmed. This may lead to liver damage and other health issues, similar to alcohol.

As Everett insists, fructose in added sugars may not have the easy-to-perceive adverse effects of alcohol, but the effects on your body are similar.

Harmful Effects Of Fructose

What are the adverse effects of fructose on your health? While there’s still some controversy on the impact of fructose, here’s some research on why it may be bad for you:

Fructose And Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease:

When the excess fructose is broken down in the liver, one of the end products is a form of fat known as a triglyceride. An accumulation of triglycerides in the liver cells may impair its function—increasing the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. [5]

Fructose And Increased Uric Acid:

Excessive fructose intake may increase the blood levels of uric acid—increasing the risk of obesity, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, and gout. [6]

Fructose And Reduced Insulin Sensitivity:

A 2016 study appearing in Scientific Reports concludes that “fructose but not glucose supplementation…impairs insulin signaling in the three major insulin-responsive tissues independently from the increase in energy intake.” [7]

Similarly, another study published in The Journal of Pediatrics found that participants who drank a fructose-rich drink experienced higher levels of insulin resistance. [8] When your body has reduced sensitivity to insulin, glucose can accumulate in your blood, causing an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and other health problems.

Fructose And Obesity:

Some research suggests that increased fructose intake may be associated with obesity. One study published in the American Journal of Physiology claims that the excessive consumption of fructose may lead to leptin resistance. This dysregulates your body’s response to the sensation of being full—exacerbating weight gain. [9]

Fructose may also alter how your body breaks down carbs and fats. [10] And according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, consuming a high-fructose diet can increase the levels of VLDL cholesterol. This may lead to the deposition of fat around organs. [11]


Research suggests that excessive consumption of fructose in added sugar is bad for your health. The sugar is metabolized in the liver and could harm your body in a number of ways, similar to alcohol.

The general rule of thumb is to monitor and restrict your intake of added sugars. Like most foods, moderation is key. And when possible, eat natural, nutrient-dense foods to meet your dietary needs.



[1] Lustig, R. H., Schmidt, L. A., & Brindis, C. D. (2012). The toxic truth about sugar. Nature, 482(7383), 27-29: https://www.nature.com/articles/482027a

[2] Ng, S. W., Slining, M. M., & Popkin, B. M. (2012). Use of caloric and noncaloric sweeteners in US consumer packaged foods, 2005-2009. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 112(11), 1828-1834: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3490437/

[3] Ter Horst, K. W., & Serlie, M. J. (2017). Fructose consumption, lipogenesis, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Nutrients, 9(9), 981: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28878197/

[4] Johnson, R. K., Appel, L. J., Brands, M., Howard, B. V., Lefevre, M., Lustig, R. H., … & Wylie-Rosett, J. (2009). Dietary sugars intake and cardiovascular health: a scientific statement from the American Heart Association. Circulation, 120(11), 1011-1020: https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/pdf/10.1161/circulationaha.109.192627

[5] Jegatheesan, P., & De Bandt, J. P. (2017). Fructose and NAFLD: the multifaceted aspects of fructose metabolism. Nutrients, 9(3), 230: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28273805/

[6] Nakagawa, T., Hu, H., Zharikov, S., Tuttle, K. R., Short, R. A., Glushakova, O., … & Johnson, R. J. (2006). A causal role for uric acid in fructose-induced metabolic syndrome. American Journal of Physiology-Renal Physiology, 290(3), F625-F631: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16234313/

[7] Baena, M., Sangüesa, G., Dávalos, A., Latasa, M. J., Sala-Vila, A., Sánchez, R. M., … & Alegret, M. (2016). Fructose, but not glucose, impairs insulin signaling in the three major insulin-sensitive tissues. Scientific reports, 6(1), 1-15: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27194405/

[8] Lin, W. T., Chan, T. F., Huang, H. L., Lee, C. Y., Tsai, S., Wu, P. W., … & Lee, C. H. (2016). Fructose-rich beverage intake and central adiposity, uric acid, and pediatric insulin resistance. The Journal of pediatrics, 171, 90-96: https://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(15)01651-0/fulltext

[9] Shapiro, A., Mu, W., Roncal, C., Cheng, K. Y., Johnson, R. J., & Scarpace, P. J. (2008). Fructose-induced leptin resistance exacerbates weight gain in response to subsequent high-fat feeding. American journal of physiology-regulatory, integrative and comparative physiology: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18703413/

[10] Pereira, R. M., Botezelli, J. D., da Cruz Rodrigues, K. C., Mekary, R. A., Cintra, D. E., Pauli, J. R., … & De Moura, L. P. (2017). Fructose consumption in the development of obesity and the effects of different protocols of physical exercise on the hepatic metabolism. Nutrients, 9(4), 405: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5409744/

[11] Lê, K. A., Ith, M., Kreis, R., Faeh, D., Bortolotti, M., Tran, C., … & Tappy, L. (2009). Fructose overconsumption causes dyslipidemia and ectopic lipid deposition in healthy subjects with and without a family history of type 2 diabetes. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 89(6), 1760-1765: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19403641/

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