May 2nd, 2012
While there is still much to learn about fatty liver disease, there is a growing recognition that beneficial bacteria in the gut can play a major role in preventing fat accumulation in the liver.
By Nicole Cutler, L.Ac.
Experts estimate that a quarter of American adults have fatty liver disease. Whether or not those with this condition have received a diagnosis yet, awareness of fatty liver prevention is growing. The top recommendations for preventing fat accumulation in the liver include eating a healthful, high-fiber, low-fat diet and regular physical activity. Although these two lifestyle choices are extremely important for liver health, they are joined by another popular wellness trend. Typically suggested for individuals who have been inundated with antibiotics or for people with vague gastrointestinal discomfort, probiotics also appear to battle the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
Along with the increasing incidence of obesity and diabetes in Western countries, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease has risen steadily. Encompassing two conditions that affect people who drink little or no alcohol, NAFLD can be mild or it can progress to a more severe stage:
1. Steatosis – A mild condition, steatosis is a simple fatty liver where there is rarely any liver damage.
2. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – When the accumulation of fat in the liver is accompanied by inflammation, fatty liver has escalated to NASH. Fibrous tissue can form with NASH, which could progress to cirrhosis or liver cancer.
Although experts still have a lot to learn about NAFLD, it is typically diagnosed in people who are overweight, diabetic or pre-diabetic and who have elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels. A person is considered to have a fatty liver when the fat makes up at least 10 percent of his or her liver. Especially if addressed during the first stage, steatosis, it is possible to reverse NAFLD. At the very least, instituting lifestyle changes that support a healthy liver can help prevent a fatty liver from getting worse.
The opposite of antibiotics, probiotics refers to specific digestive bacteria that produce healthy intestinal flora. Examples of probiotics include:
Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that support the health of the gastrointestinal system by suppressing or destroying harmful bacteria. The regular use of probiotics is believed to re-colonize the digestive tract with enough normal flora to prevent potentially damaging microbes from gaining dominance.
Often advised for a wide range of gastrointestinal issues that could benefit from an influx of beneficial bacteria, probiotics are a part of many peoples’ health routines. While there are a wide range of strengths and strains available, probiotics have traditionally been found as a supplement in pill or powder form. However, our knowledge of probiotics’ value is steadily increasing – a movement that has led to their availability in many foods such as yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and a growing list of fermented foods.
Evidence that Probiotics Benefit a Fatty Liver
Documentation that improving the gut bacterial balance impacts fat accumulation in the liver has gained significant momentum over the past decade:
• 2003 – Researchers at Johns Hopkins University found that intestinal bacteria play a pathogenic role in hepatic insulin resistance (a marker of pre-diabetes) and NAFLD.
• 2008 – In an animal study, researchers at the Imperial College of London found that probiotic exposure altered fat metabolism in the liver.
• 2009 – Italian researchers found that NAFLD is associated with gut permeability that is related to small intestinal bacterial overgrowth.
• 2011 – Because their effects have proved to be beneficial in NAFLD, researchers from University of Naples described probiotics as an emerging therapeutic strategy for fatty liver disease.
There is no substitute for eating the right foods and getting regular exercise for preventing fat accumulation in the liver. However, adding probiotics to these lifestyle standards increases your lean liver efforts. As we continue to witness how improving the ratio of friendly bacteria to detrimental bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract reduces the incidence of fatty liver disease, more resources will be poured into this healthful strategy.
http://altmedicine.about.com/b/2009/05/23/probiotics-may-protect-your-liver.htm, Probiotics May Protect Your Liver, Retrieved February 7, 2011, About.com, 2011.
http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hep.22848/abstract, Increased intestinal permeability and tight junction alterations in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, Luca Miele, et al, Retrieved February 11, 2011, Hepatology, January 2009.
http://www.betterhealthresearch.com/news/probiotics-may-one-day-lower-fat-levels-in-liver-experts-say-800384845/, Probiotics May One Day Lower Fat Levels In Liver, Experts Say, Retrieved February 7, 2011, Better Health Research, 2011.
http://www.liversupport.com/wordpress/2007/03/probiotics-help-support-liver-health/, Probiotics Help Support Liver Health, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved February 7, 2011, Natural Wellness, 2011.
http://www.liversupport.com/wordpress/2006/05/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease-and-insulin-resistance/, How to Prevent a Fatty Liver, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac, Natural Wellness, 2011.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18197175, Probiotic modulation of symbiotic gut microbial-host metabolic interactions in a humanized microbiome mouse model, Martin FP, et al, Retrieved February 11, 2011, Molecular Systems Biology, January 2008.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21292470, Probiotics as an emerging therapeutic strategy to treat NAFLD: focus on molecular and biochemical mechanisms, Iacono A, et al, Retrieved February 11, 2011, The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, February 2011.
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