Soda has a bad reputation nutritionally, and deservedly so. Typically made up of little more than sugar (or high-fructose corn syrup), carbonated water, and artificial flavors and colors, the sweetened beverage has been linked to everything from obesity to tooth decay.
However, if you drink too much soda, there's one surprising side effect that you may not see coming—and it's one that can seriously affect your health for years to come: you can develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
According to a study published in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology, excessive soda consumption is strongly linked to the development of NAFLD, which occurs when fat builds up in a person's liver. The study's researchers observed a group of 310 patients with NAFLD over a 36-month period, during which time a subset of 31 patients with NAFLD who lacked other typical risk factors for the disease—including diabetes, obesity, and hypertension—were compared to a control group. Those with other lifestyle and health factors that could contribute to liver trouble—including the use of certain drugs, high alcohol consumption, autoimmune conditions, and hepatitis—were also excluded from the smaller sample group.
Among the NAFLD patients in the study's subgroup, 20% consumed one sugar-sweetened beverage a day, 40% consumed between two and three sugar-sweetened beverages a day, and 40% consuming more than four sugar-sweetened beverages a day on most days during the study period.
Researchers found that, among the group of individuals without other classic NAFLD risk factors, excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages was "the only independent variable that was able to predict the presence of fatty liver in 82.5% of cases."
So, just how dangerous can a NAFLD diagnosis be? According to a 2020 study published in the journal Hepatology, all stages of NAFLD have been linked to a higher mortality rate than that of the general population, with 11.7/1,000 more NAFLD patients dying per year than that of a control population.