Weight loss support helps people with fatty liver disease

July 4, 2019 in Gastrointestinal Health, Nutrition Topics in the News, Weight Management

Weight loss support helps people with fatty liver disease

People who have fatty liver disease related to being overweight may get the disease under better control when they get lots of support to lose weight, a research review from the University of Oxford in the U.K. suggests. 

Most people have a little bit of fat in their liver, but fatty liver disease can be diagnosed when more than 5% of the liver is made up of fat. If the condition isn’t linked to liver damage from heavy drinking, it’s known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and is most often associated with obesity and certain eating habits. 

For the current analysis, researchers looked at data on 2,588 patients who were participating in 22 clinical trials to help them lose weight. Fifteen studies tested behavioral weight loss programs; six tested medications; one tested weight loss surgery. 

The trials also looked at whether those interventions would improve biomarkers for NAFLD that can help predict the likelihood of serious complications. 

Weight loss improves health of the liver

Compared with little or no weight loss support, the weight loss interventions that offered the most support were associated with greater weight loss and bigger reductions in biomarkers for NAFLD like elevated liver enzymes in the blood, elevated blood sugar and reduced sensitivity to the hormone insulin (insulin resistance). 

Different approaches to weight loss didn’t appear to impact whether fibrosis, or scarring, in the liver got better or worse. 

Globally, about one in four adults have NAFLD, as do at least half of people with obesity.

There’s no drug treatment for NAFLD. Doctors typically advise patients to lose weight by cutting calories and getting more exercise, or sometimes by taking weight-loss medications or considering weight-loss surgery.

Ideally, people should try to lose 7% of their weight and maintain this weight loss in order to have long-term improvements in NAFLD. 

Source: JAMA Internal Medicine, online July 1, 2019.

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