Most know that fast food adds weight and raises the risk of high blood pressure and diabetes. Now add liver damage to the reasons doctors are saying when it comes to the drive-thru, not so fast. 

It’s convenient. And it’s tasty. And many times, less expensive than more healthy options at the grocery store. But there is a cost to consuming fast food. 

“Those foods often have ingredients that can really, really damage the liver and lead to long-term liver complications,” said Dr. Ani Kardashian, a hepatologist with the Keck School of Medicine at the University of South Carolina.  

The danger is elevated in people who already have comorbidities like diabetes and obesity. 

“So if you have some underlying metabolic risk factor like you are diabetic, you are overweight, then fast food has even more negative impact on the liver and can lead to even higher amounts of fat in the liver,” Kardashian said.  

Healthy livers contain a small amount of fat. But the levels skyrocket when just 20% of daily calories come in a paper bag. 

“Unfortunately, that can lead to a lot of complications including cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer,” Kardashian said. 

The culprit is the carbohydrate and fat content inside fried chicken, French fries, greasy burgers and pizza. Kardashian said she is surprised at the negative effects in her study of more than 4,000 people.  

“We know fast food is very high in saturated fats and high in processed sugars and these are the types of fats and ingredients that get deposited in the liver,” she said. “It’s these really bad trans fats and saturated fats that unfortunately make up a lot of the fast foods we’re seeing across the United States.” 

Doctors say this may cause liver damage. 

“Fatty liver disease is a condition in which fat will deposit and sit in the liver and as you get a build-up, just the way alcohol can cause damage to the liver where if you drink a lot over the years your liver can get inflamed and ultimately you develop cirrhosis, fat can do the same exact thing. Fat can deposit in the liver, causing inflammation just the way alcohol does, and then over time lead to cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure and liver cancer where people need liver transplants as the only cure.” 

The damage doesn’t just come with age. Fast food is rapidly altering the health of young people. 

“We saw that nobody is immune to this,” Kardashian said. “We have seen the rates of fatty liver rise in young people, in adolescents, it’s become an epidemic in the pediatric population as it has in the adult population and over 30% of adults have fatty liver and most don’t know it lives silently until people develop complications. 

“If you are thinking about going thru drive thru think again and try to find healthier options and it’s easier said than done.” 

 Avoid the fast-food line and go for something a little healthier at the grocery store or make food at home 

Surprisingly, studies show that even physical activity could not combat the effects of fast food on the liver. Dr. Kardashian hopes her study results prompt other physicians to educate their patients about healthy eating and try to steer them away from the drive-thru.