Dietary fructose as a risk factor for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

Arch Toxicol. 2017 Apr;91(4):1545-1563. doi: 10.1007/s00204-016-1892-7. Epub 2016 Dec 19.


Glucose is a major energy source for the entire body, while fructose metabolism occurs mainly in the liver. Fructose consumption has increased over the last decade globally and is suspected to contribute to the increased incidence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is a manifestation of metabolic syndrome affecting about one-third of the population worldwide and has progressive pathological potential for liver cirrhosis and cancer through non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Here we have reviewed the possible contribution of fructose to the pathophysiology of NAFLD. We critically summarize the current findings about several regulators, and their potential mechanisms, that have been studied in humans and animal models in response to fructose exposure. A novel hypothesis on fructose-dependent perturbation of liver regeneration and metabolism is advanced. Fructose intake could affect inflammatory and metabolic processes, liver function, gut microbiota, and portal endotoxin influx. The role of the brain in controlling fructose ingestion and the subsequent development of NAFLD is highlighted. Although the importance for fructose (over)consumption for NAFLD in humans is still debated and comprehensive intervention studies are invited, understanding of how fructose intake can favor these pathological processes is crucial for the development of appropriate noninvasive diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to detect and treat these metabolic effects. Still, lifestyle modification, to lessen the consumption of fructose-containing products, and physical exercise are major measures against NAFLD. Finally, promising drugs against fructose-induced insulin resistance and hepatic dysfunction that are emerging from studies in rodents are reviewed, but need further validation in human patients.

Keywords: ATP; Biomarkers; Ethanol; Gut microbiota; Herbal medicine; Humans; Inflammation; Insulin resistance; Liver regeneration; Metabolic syndrome (MetS); Oxidative stress; The brain.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet
  • Exercise / physiology
  • Fructose / administration & dosage
  • Fructose / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / physiopathology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / epidemiology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / etiology*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / physiopathology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sweetening Agents / administration & dosage
  • Sweetening Agents / adverse effects*


  • Sweetening Agents
  • Fructose