Does fructose consumption contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?

Clin Res Hepatol Gastroenterol. 2012 Dec;36(6):554-60. doi: 10.1016/j.clinre.2012.06.005. Epub 2012 Jul 12.


Fructose is mainly consumed with added sugars (sucrose and high fructose corn syrup), and represents up to 10% of total energy intake in the US and in several European countries. This hexose is essentially metabolized in splanchnic tissues, where it is converted into glucose, glycogen, lactate, and, to a minor extent, fatty acids. In animal models, high fructose diets cause the development of obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes mellitus, and dyslipidemia. Ectopic lipid deposition in the liver is an early occurrence upon fructose exposure, and is tightly linked to hepatic insulin resistance. In humans, there is strong evidence, based on several intervention trials, that fructose overfeeding increases fasting and postprandial plasma triglyceride concentrations, which are related to stimulation of hepatic de novo lipogenesis and VLDL-TG secretion, together with decreased VLDL-TG clearance. However, in contrast to animal models, fructose intakes as high as 200 g/day in humans only modestly decreases hepatic insulin sensitivity, and has no effect on no whole body (muscle) insulin sensitivity. A possible explanation may be that insulin resistance and dysglycemia develop mostly in presence of sustained fructose exposures associated with changes in body composition. Such effects are observed with high daily fructose intakes, and there is no solid evidence that fructose, when consumed in moderate amounts, has deleterious effects. There is only limited information regarding the effects of fructose on intrahepatic lipid concentrations. In animal models, high fructose diets clearly stimulate hepatic de novo lipogenesis and cause hepatic steatosis. In addition, some observations suggest that fructose may trigger hepatic inflammation and stimulate the development of hepatic fibrosis. This raises the possibility that fructose may promote the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease to its more severe forms, i.e. non-alcoholic steatohepatitis and cirrhosis. In humans, a short-term fructose overfeeding stimulates de novo lipogenesis and significantly increases intrahepatic fat concentration, without however reaching the proportion encountered in non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases. Whether consumption of lower amounts of fructose over prolonged periods may contribute to the pathogenesis of NAFLD has not been convincingly documented in epidemiological studies and remains to be further assessed.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Fatty Liver / chemically induced*
  • Fructose / adverse effects*
  • Fructose / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Inflammation / chemically induced
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease


  • Fructose