October 5th, 2006
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (also referred to as NAFLD) has become the most common liver ailment in American adults. Learn more about three dietary supplements, then when combined with lifetsyle changes, can help reverse NAFLD’s effects before it causes permanent liver damage.
by Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common liver disease in the United States and is also a common cause of abnormal liver tests. NAFLD describes two conditions that affect people who drink little or no alcohol. The first is a mild condition, while the second is its progression to a more severe disease.
1. Fatty liver, also known as steatosis, is an accumulation of fat in the liver that typically does not cause liver damage.
2. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is the accumulation of fat in the liver accompanied by hepatic inflammation. Fibrous tissue can form with NASH, which can progress to cirrhosis or liver cancer.
NAFLD is usually discovered because of abnormal liver tests, a liver ultrasound, or CT scan in people with normal liver enzymes. Liver biopsy may show a mix of fat, inflammation and scarring in the liver. Although NAFLD is related to obesity and diabetes, its only known risk factors are high blood sugar and lipid levels. People with NAFLD often have resistance to the normal action of insulin, a hormone critical in the processing of sugar and fat. Increased insulin leads to fat in the liver. Currently, there is no proven treatment for NAFLD.
Recent research has indicated nutritional supplementation may play a key role in controlling or eliminating a fatty liver. We’ve provided three nutritional supplements that have shown several key health benefits as a result of clinical studies.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-3 fatty acids are found in certain plant oils (such as canola and linseed oil) and marine fish (such as salmon). Health professionals and consumers have long known that omega-3 fatty acids demonstrate several healthful benefits including:
- Reduces cardiovascular disease and blood triglyceride levels
- Improves the action of insulin
- Reduces stiffness, pain and inflammation
- Helps individuals suffering from Central Nervous System dysfunctions
Several studies in animals suggest that diets containing high levels of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) decrease the amount of liver fat. The University of Florence Nutrition Center and Gastroenterology Unit recently demonstrated the health benefit of omega-3 PUFA supplementation for people with liver steatosis. In a controlled pilot study of people with NAFLD, researchers found omega-3 PUFA supplementation reduced liver enzyme levels, led to a preferred blood fat ratio and improved the texture of the liver. This in itself is compelling evidence to consider omega-3 PUFA for steatosis treatment.
Southern Ginseng, otherwise known as Gynostemma Pentaphyllum or Jiaogulan, is an herb used in Chinese medicine to treat a wide range of ailments. Among the reasons for its use is southern ginseng’s ability to:
- Reduce cholesterol and blood coagulation
- Increase energy and stamina
- Promote healthy cell development and liver protection due to antioxidant activity
A 2006 study conducted at Chang Gung Memorial Hospital in Taiwan demonstrated a significant benefit to southern ginseng supplementation for patients with NAFLD. Researchers observed a marked reduction in liver enzyme levels, insulin resistance and body mass index when a daily dose of 80 mL of southern ginseng was added to dietary therapy.
The active ingredient in the herb milk thistle, silymarin, has a longstanding history of supporting liver health. Studies prove milk thistle may:
- Quicken the rate of liver cell regeneration
- Inhibit liver fibrosis
- Protect the liver from damage
- Reduce cholesterol absorption
According to a 2006 Czech Republic study, milk thistle extract significantly reduced cholesterol absorption in rats fed a high cholesterol diet, as well as caused significant decreases in LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Researchers concluded that the inhibition of cholesterol absorption caused by milk thistle extract could contribute to positive changes in cholesterol profiles and lipid content in the liver.
To learn more about the the most potent and cost-effective form of milk thistle available, click here.
Putting It All Together
According to St. Luke’s Texas Liver Institute research fellow S. Suresh Alagugurusamy, MD, “Treatment of patients with NAFLD has typically been focused on the management of associated conditions such as obesity, diabetes mellitus, hyperlipidemia and discontinuation of hepatotoxic drugs known to produce NAFLD.” In addition to treating associated conditions, gradual weight loss through dietary therapy and regular exercise are strongly encouraged for anyone with a fatty liver. As more research weighs in on the value of supplementation for reducing steatosis, the inclusion of omega-3 PUFA, herbs such as southern ginseng, milk thistle and other antioxidants will be part of any liver specialist’s therapeutic recommendations for NAFLD.
Capanni M, Calella F, et al, Prolonged omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation ameliorates hepatic steatosis in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Aliment Pharmacol Ther., 2006; 23(8): 1143-51.
Chou SC, Chen KW, et al, The add-on effects of Gynostemma pentaphyllum on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, Altern Ther Health Med., 2006; 12(3): 34-9.
Sobolova, L., Skottova N., Vecera R., Urbanek K., Effect of silymarin and its polyphenolic fraction on cholesterol absorption in rats, Pharmacol Res, Feb 2006.
www.americanheart.org, Fish and Omega-3 Fatty Acids, American Heart Association, 2006.
www.drugdigest.org, Southern Ginseng, Express Scripts, Inc., 2006.
www.eliveronline.com, Are there any treatment options available for NAFLD?, S. Suresh Alagugurusamy, MD, Roche Pharmaceuticals, 2006
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