People who make an effort to improve their diet may be more likely to have less fat in their livers and a lower risk of liver disease than individuals who stick to unhealthy eating habits, a U.S. study suggests.
Researchers focused on what’s known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is usually associated with obesity and certain eating habits. While dietary changes are recommended to treat this type of liver disease, research hasn’t clearly demonstrated whether these changes can work for preventing the condition.
For the study, researchers examined data from dietary questionnaires and liver fat scans for 1,521 people enrolled in the long-running Framingham Heart Study. Participants did the questionnaires and scans twice, at least three to four years apart.
Mediterranean diet, Healthy Eating Index protective
During the study, people with above-average increases in adherence to a healthy Mediterranean diet rich in whole grains, fish, lean protein, veggies and olive oil were at least 26 percent less likely to develop fatty liver than individuals with average increases in adherence.
Above-average increases in sticking to another liver-friendly diet, the Alternative Healthy Eating Index, were associated with at least 21 percent lower odds of developing fatty liver.
People with a high genetic risk for fatty liver disease whose diet scores decreased during the study accumulated more fat in their livers. But even with a high genetic risk, fat accumulation didn’t increase if people kept their diets the same or improved them.
The findings demonstrate that increasing the quality of your diet is associated with less liver fat and reduced risk for developing NAFLD, particularly in individuals with a high genetic risk for developing it.
Participants who had improved diet quality scores consumed more fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, which contain more water and fibre.
The researchers speculated that these foods may decrease calorie intake by affecting satiety and improve weight control and therefore reduce liver fat. It’s also possible that fibre may affect gut bacteria and, in so doing, impact on liver fat.
Both diets in the study also limit red meat intake that can lead to liver fat, and encourage consumption of foods like nuts, which may help reduce liver fat deposits.
Fatty liver disease can occur when more than 5 percent of the liver by weight is made up of fat. Excessive drinking can damage the liver and cause fat to accumulate, a condition known as alcoholic fatty liver, but even when people don’t drink much, they can still develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
The study wasn’t a controlled experiment designed to prove whether or how diet changes might impact the risk of developing fatty liver. Researchers also relied on questionnaires to assess participants” diets, which can be unreliable, and they lacked data on non-dietary causes of liver fat accumulation including certain medications and viral infections.
Even so, the findings add to the evidence suggesting that healthy eating habits can minimize the risk of fatty liver disease, even when people have a genetic risk for this condition.
All research on this web site is the property of Leslie Beck Nutrition Consulting Inc. and is protected by copyright. Keep in mind that research on these matters continues daily and is subject to change. The information presented is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. It is intended to provide ongoing support of your healthy lifestyle practices.