Low sugar diet helps treat fatty liver disease

Low sugar diet helps treat fatty liver disease


Most people have never heard of “non-alcoholic fatty liver disease” (NAFLD). But this disease is important, and is becoming more common, even in children. NAFLD has become one of the main reasons people need liver transplants. 

There is no medication that helps this disease. Now a study, just published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), suggests an effective way to help treat this problem.

What is “non-alcoholic fatty liver disease”?

This disease is marked by a build-up of fat in the liver. This sort of fat build-up happens also in people who drink too much alcohol, but in NAFLD, the person drinks little or no alcohol. Rather, the cause of NAFLD usually is a bad diet, from eating too much sugar.  Many people with NAFLD are obese as well. 

Is NAFLD serious?

It depends on how much fat is in the liver. In milder cases, which often has no symptoms NAFLD increases the risk of diabetes and heart disease. In 10 to 20% of cases, the fat infiltration progresses and causes more severe problems, with inflammation and scarring. Scar tissue replaces normal liver cells. 

Eventually this can progress to cirrhosis, liver failure (requiring a transplant), or liver cancer. These are the same liver problems that are seen in heavy drinkers, but again, in NAFLD the cause is not alcohol, but excess sugar in the diet.

How common is it?

NAFLD is not uncommon in developed countries where people eat too much sugar and processed foods. In the USA, an estimated 20% of adults, and 10% of children, have NAFLD. As the rates of obesity rise, so does NAFLD. Approximately 2 to 3% of adults have the more serious form of NAFLD that can develop into cirrhosis and liver cancer.

Most people who have the milder form of NAFLD are unaware of their problem, unless it is discovered on an abdominal ultrasound or MRI scan. People usually only have symptoms if the fat replacement of the liver cells continues to worsen. In these cases, people may have abdominal pain, fatigue, or swelling of the abdomen. Some people develop the yellow skin characteristic of cirrhosis.

What was the new research and treatment?

The JAMA researchers recruited 40 adolescent boys who already had documented NAFLD and split them into two groups. One group continued their normal diet, while the other group was placed on a low-sugar diet. At the beginning of the study and then at the end, at 2 months, the boys all had abdominal MRI scans and blood tests to check their liver function.

The researchers were smart enough to put the entire family of the test group on a low-sugar diet. They believed that if the whole family followed the diet, it would be easier for the boys to comply. The families were given food packages twice a week with all the (no added sugar) food they needed. 

The boys in the test group were not restricted in calories. They could eat as much as they wanted, but no fruit juices, sodas, sweet desserts, or foods with added sugars. The boys were allowed all the fruits they wanted, as the natural sugars in fruits are not harmful.

Much healthier livers 

At the end of the study, the boys in the restricted sugar diet had a remarkable 31% decrease in liver fat compared with the boys who continued their normal diets. The low sugar children also had a 40% improvement in their liver function blood tests (ALT levels).

Another reason to cut back on sugar!

While this study was done in children, it is likely that adults with fatty livers would benefit in the same way. This gives us all another good reason to avoid adding sugar to foods and drinks, and check labels and choose items without added sugars. Not only will it help you lose weight, but will help your liver lose fat, and return more to normal. 

To find a doctor, of any specialty, anywhere in Brazil, check out our website: www.Procuramed.com.

See also in ProcuraMed:

Our amazing liver: how it keeps us healthy

Eight ways to keep your liver healthy

Esta postagem também está disponível em: Portuguese (Brazil)

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