Fast food and organic living don’t mix. Researchers continue to demonstrate the dangers of high-fat food, the omnipresence of high-fructose corn syrup in prepared foods and a sedentary lifestyle, but these three unhealthful lifestyle choices are becoming increasingly commonplace.

Most recently, Brent Tetri, MD, an associate professor of internal medicine at the Saint Louis University Liver Center, and his colleagues studied mice that consumed a diet that was 40% fat and full of high-fructose corn syrup (a sweetener common in soda and some fruit juices).

“We wanted to mirror the kind of diet many Americans subsist on,” says Dr. Tetri, a leading researcher in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (a condition that can lead to cirrhosis and, ultimately, death). “The high fat content is about the same you’d find in a typical McDonald’s meal, and the high-fructose corn syrup translates to about eight cans of soda a day in a human diet, which is not far off with what some people consume. But we were also keeping the mice sedentary, with a very limited amount of activity.”

The 16-week study offered some interesting results.

“We had a feeling we’d see evidence of fatty liver disease by the end of the study,” Dr. Tetri says. “But we were surprised to find how severe the damage was and how quickly it occurred. It took only four weeks for liver enzymes to increase and for glucose intolerance—the beginning of type II diabetes—to begin.”

And unlike other studies, the mice were not forced to eat; rather, they were able to eat whenever they wanted—and eat they did. According to Dr. Tetri, evidence suggests fructose actually suppresses your feeling of fullness (unlike fiber-rich foods, which make you feel full quickly).

The take-home message for humans is obvious, he says.

“A high-fat and sugar-sweetened diet compounded by a sedentary lifestyle will have severe repercussions for your liver and other vital organs,” Dr. Tetri says. “Fatty liver disease now affects about one of every eight children in this country. The good news is that it is somewhat reversible—but for some it will take major changes in diet and lifestyle.”

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