What alcohol does to the liver is pretty well documented. What most diabetics and their caregivers don’t know is how a diseased liver can impact diabetics over a lifetime.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), may contribute to type 2 diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association.

Researchers from the University of Florida as well as Yale University are studying the relationship between sugar, fatty liver and type 2 diabetes.

“Eighty percent of people with diabetes have fat in the liver,” said Kenneth Cusi, MD, FACP, FACE, and University of Florida in a “Diabetes Forecast” article.

Is my liver fat?

Dr. Varmin Samuel, Assistant Professor of Endocrinology, Yale University, talked in “Yale Scientific” about a new feed-forward mechanism in the liver driven by excess sugar consumption. Dr. Samuel reported this “may lead to increased fat production in the liver and the ensuing development of diabetes.”

Like many of his fellow residents, Dr. Samuels was shocked by the number of patients he saw with type 2 diabetes.

“The main issue of concern is the increase in total sugar consumption, not just that of high fructose corn syrup. This has paralleled the rise in obesity over the past decades.

"Excess fructose consumption is particularly unhealthy; while glucose is easily stored as glycogen in the body, fructose is more likely to be turned into fat by the liver. Given that fatty liver is a common complication of obesity, it is not surprising that fatty liver is the most common chronic liver disease in the United States, affecting 10-20 percent of Americans,” said Dr. Samuels.

Insulin is the culprit

What does this research mean for me or my loved one? Insulin is the hormone that helps regular sugar uptake in the body and is produced in the pancreas. Like a traffic light, insulin responds to glucose in the body, activating proteins.

“Thus, if there is too much fat in the liver,” said Dr. Samuel, “the ability of insulin to activate those signals is impaired, making those cells resistant to insulin.”

Dr. Samuels’ research noted “too much fructose consumption can lead to excess levels of hepatic lipogenesis, or excess fat production in the liver, which then activates proteins that block insulin signaling.”

The $500 word “lipogenesis” describes the process by which sugars are converted to fatty acids. Dr. Samuels’ research may lead to future drug treatments to reduce fatty livers and the onset of diabetes.

Sugar is still the problem

While Dr. Samuels’s research is only beginning, he shares a message that is familiar to diabetics and their caregivers, the importance of proper diet and health.

“Samuel hopes this research will inform the public about nutrition and educate our legislature and nutritionists about the process behind the diabetic epidemic. Ultimately the root problem is excess sugar consumption.”