If your daily 4 pm snack doesn’t change, you could be inviting organ damage. Here’s the toxic truth of junk food.
Earlier this week, a 15-yearold was rushed from Pune to Parel’s Global Hospital after suffering from multiple organ failure. He was put on ventilator immediately as he was already in coma and had sustained severe internal bleeding in his liver and kidneys. He eventually underwent a liver transplant after a cadaver donation from Andheri’s Kokilaben Hospital.
The teenager, who underwent a 12-hour surgery and is now out of danger, say doctors, suffered liver cirrhosis – a slowly progressing disease in which healthy liver tissue is replaced with scar tissue, eventually preventing the organ from functioning. The doctors were quoted blaming the teen’s junk food diet for the condition. “Food items that have carbohydrates or saturated fats and ingredients that solidify in cold temperatures, get deposited as fat in the liver. Over time, this causes peroxidation (when free oxygen radicles combine with fat),” explains Dr Akash Shukla, assistant professor of gastroenterology and hepatologist at KEM Hospital, adding, “After peroxidation starts, this condition graduates to NASH (Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis), which if ignored can lead to liver cirrhosis in five to 10 years.”
All down to the liver
If you thought weight gain, high cholesterol and hypertension were the only fallouts of your regular binges on fried and packaged snacks, you might want to take a look at what these meals, dubbed the last supper of our generation, do to the liver.
The liver performs several functions for the body: manufacturing blood proteins that aid in clotting, oxygen transport, and immune system function; storing excess nutrients; manufacturing bile needed for digestion; helping the body store glucose; ridding the body of harmful substances in the bloodstream, including drugs and alcohol; and breaking down saturated fat and producing cholesterol.
“Fast foods and sugar-rich drinks produce a stressful environment in the liver. A high-fat diet alone results in obesity, insulin resistance and some degree of fatty liver with minimal inflammation,” explains Dr Vinay Dhir, a senior gastroenterologist with Global Hospitals. In addition, Dr Dhir says, fast food contains high levels of fructose which cause hepatic fibrosis (a build-up of excessive connective tissue in the liver) and liver inflammation (when the liver swells beyond its normal size), which can lead to liver cirrhosis and even cancer.
What then makes our favourite cola-burger-fries-for-Rs-100-combo so sinister? Hydrogenated oil is used to prepare most items you find on the menu of your local burger joint. And that’s where the problem starts. A 2005 study led by A Saari Csallany, a professor of food chemistry and nutritional biochemistry at the University of Minnesota, found the presence of large amount of toxins with known connections to heart disease and neurological disorders, in vegetable-based cooking oils that are heated or reheated for hours at a time. The process, common at street vendors and several fast food joints, says Dr Roy Patankar, gastrointestinal and laparoscopic surgeon at Chembur’s Joy Hospital, can also affect multiple organs. Dr Patankar says saturated fats play an important role in the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Dr Dhir agrees, adding, “Saturated fats are known to induce inflammation in the lever. Obesity is actually a lowgrade chronic inflammatory condition and leads to increased production of cytokines, which is associated with tumours, and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis. This low-grade chronic inflammation affects the heart, blood vessels, liver and other organs.”
Most fat-food items contain a cocktail of chemicals. Among them is sodium phosphate, a leavening agent. “An article in the Natural Science journal talked about how sodium phosphate induces inflammation in the intestine and the liver,” says Dr Shukla.
And the patients are getting younger by the day, warns Dr Jayant Barve, gastroenterologist at Bandra’s Lilavati Hospital. “Few years ago, patients with a fatty liver would be above 20 years old. Now, I get patients who’re as young a five,” he points out.
Designed for addiction
Why then haven’t we managed to put down that bag of chips? Macrobiotic nutritionist and chef Shonali Sabherwal says, “High corn fructose syrup, is a liquid sweetener used in soft drinks, cookies, cereals, ketchup, salad dressings, chicken nuggets, most packaged foods, breads etc. It raises your triglycerides, and LDL (bad) cholesterol, causes dementia. But, most importantly it induces more sugar cravings and increases appetite for junk food.”
Love your liver
– If you must have a fast-food diet, limit it to once a week
– Try the burger without mayo and cheese. Avoid fries and sugary soft drinks Better yet, opt for grilled chicken sandwich, a salad with a lower-fat dressing and bottled water
– Exercise at least three times a week. Regular exercise keeps the weight down and helps your body better metabolise and process the food you eat
– Ask your doctor to do a blood test to check your level of liver enzymes, a key measure of the health of your organ. Many doctors now order this test routinely when doing blood work on adults, but kids who eat plenty of fast food especially need to have their liver enzymes checked – Science Daily