A new study led by Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists shows how a natural compound found in many vegetables – indole – can be used to fight non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Indole is found in cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, kale, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and bok choy.
About NAFLD and indoles
NAFLD occurs when the liver becomes "marbled" with fat, sometimes due to unhealthy nutrition, such as excessive intake of saturated fats found in animal foods. If not properly addressed, fatty liver disease can lead to life-threatening liver disease, including cirrhosis and liver cancer.
Many factors contribute to NAFLD. Fatty liver is seven to 10 times more common in obese people than those who maintain a healthy weight.
As well, obesity causes inflammation in the body. This inflammation worsens liver damage in those with liver disease.
Gut bacteria may also impact the progression of fatty liver disease. These bacteria produce many different compounds, including indole, which has anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer properties.
About the study
Researchers examined the effect of indole concentrations in people, animal models and individual cells to help determine indole's effect on liver inflammation and its potential benefits to people with NAFLD. The study also investigated the extent to which indoles alleviate non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
In 137 Chinese subjects, the research team discovered people with a higher body mass index tended to have lower levels of indole in their blood.
In fact, the indole levels in those who were clinically obese were significantly lower than those who were considered lean. And in those with lower indole levels, there was also a higher amount of fat deposits in the liver.
This result will likely extend to other ethnicities, the researchers noted, however ethnic background may influence gut bacteria populations and indole production.
To further explore the impact of indole, the research team used animal models fed a low-fat diet as a control and high-fat diet to simulate the effects of NAFLD.
On animal models fed a high fat diet, treatment of indole significantly decreased fat accumulation and inflammation in the liver.
In addition to reducing the amount of fat in liver cells, indole also acts on cells in the intestine, which send out molecular signals that dampen inflammation.
Source: Hepatology, January 17, 2020.
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