Fast Food: The Fast Track to Organ Damage

A Swedish study finds fast food can stress the liver.

ByABC News
January 8, 2009, 12:05 AM

Feb. 14, 2008— -- "Welcome to Fast Foods! How can we destroy your internal organs?"

It's not very catchy, but fast food restaurants may as well update their greetings, considering the negative effects their food can have on our health, our hearts and, now, our livers.

In a new study, 18 slim, healthy Swedish men and women took on a fast food diet, eating meals from popular chains twice a day for four weeks while refraining from exercise.

At the end of the experiment, blood tests showed evidence that the subjects eating fast food had liver damage. They also had gained an average of 16 pounds.

The subjects were eating "an outrageously high amount" of calories, said Keith-Thomas Ayoob, associate professor of pediatrics at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Ayoob said the calorie intake was almost double the average daily caloric intake of most Americans, which is about 2,700 calories.

Studies have shown that a diet high in fat and calories the magic recipe for delicious, greasy fast food puts people at greater risk for obesity and type 2 diabetes, both of which can lead to cardiovascular diseases and heart failure.

But the Swedish study, the goal of which was to double calorie intake and increase body weight by about 15 percent, showed that the liver is also at risk when you roll up to the drive-through window.

"The extra fat is the big enchilada here, the equivalent of about three sticks of butter daily," Ayoob said. "The liver is basically using its compensatory mechanism to accommodate all this extra stuff."

The liver processes fats in the blood. Excessive calories and fats overload the organ, causing fat to build up in the liver cells and leading to liver damage.

The study echoes another experiment that received both attention and an Academy Award nomination. In the 2004 documentary Super Size Me, filmmaker Morgan Spurlock followed a strict fast food diet for 30 days, eating only items from McDonald's. He consumed an average of 5,000 calories each day, equivalent to about nine hamburgers, and gained 24.5 pounds.