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The Mediterranean Diet and Your Liver


With over a quarter of American adults affected by fatty liver disease and countless more receiving a diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, strategies to reverse these trends are in high demand.

If your meals are anything like the typical American’s, you probably already know that switching to a high fiber, low fat diet will help you lose weight. However, many do not know that following a popular, predominantly Southern European style of eating may not only help protect against weight gain – but it can also prevent metabolic syndrome and fatty liver disease.

Metabolic Syndrome and Fatty Liver Disease
Estimated to affect one in every four American adults, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is emerging as one of the most prevalent and potentially harmful illnesses of our time. Described as the accumulation of fat in the liver cells of people who do not drink alcohol excessively, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is reversible if detected early enough.

Closely associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome is a frequently seen health pattern that foretells of type II diabetes. Metabolic syndrome typically consists of:

•    obesity
•    hyperinsulinemia
•    insulin resistance
•    hypertriglyceridemia
•    hypertension

Although neither metabolic syndrome nor nonalcoholic fatty liver disease has a single identifiable cause, most experts agree that healthful lifestyle adjustments can protect against both of these illnesses.

The Mediterranean Diet
More than one study has looked into the potential health benefits of the Mediterranean diet, and each investigation appears to reveal more reasons to consider favoring cuisine from the Mediterranean region.

Including traditional foods from southern Italy, Crete, Spain, Morocco and much of Greece, the Mediterranean diet is completely devoid of processed food. Staples of the Mediterranean diet include:

•    fresh fruit and vegetables
•    whole grains
•    nuts and seeds
•    legumes
•    fish and seafood
•    yogurt
•    olive oil

Four more characteristics of the Mediterranean diet are:

•    Good Fats – Instead of eliminating fat consumption, the Mediterranean diet is heavy on healthful monounsaturated fats and polyunsaturated omega-3 fatty acids (like olive oil, flax seeds, avocado and fatty fish).

•    Small Portions – With an emphasis on scaled-down portions, small quantities of delicious food containing healthy fats (like olives and nuts) keeps people feeling full for a longer time than diets without any fat.

•    Olive Oil – Instead of butter, margarine, lard, sesame oil, vegetable oil or safflower oil, the Mediterranean diet uses olive oil in nearly every dish. A compound in olive oil (oleocanthal) is believed to reduce inflammation. This highly desired characteristic helps combat many types of chronic diseases, including fatty liver disease.

•    Fruit Dessert – Cravings for sugary, creamy or rich treats for dessert adds a considerable caloric and toxic load to the body’s digestive and purification responsibilities. However, the Mediterranean dietary custom of consuming fresh fruit for dessert supplies fiber, vitamins and antioxidants instead of sugar, fat and chemicals.

Two recent research studies suggesting that the Mediterranean diet could help prevent or reverse fatty liver disease include:

1.    A Spanish study published in the July-August 2011 edition of the Journal of Medicinal Food studied how the Mediterranean diet impacted participants without diabetes who had nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Due to extremely significant improvements in body weight, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, liver enzymes and severity of fat accumulation in the liver, the researchers concluded that eating a Mediterranean diet could be an effective and safe way to treat patients suffering from metabolic syndrome and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

2.    An Australian study recently presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases also revealed compelling evidence in favor of the Mediterranean diet. In this study, the investigators found that a six-week Mediterranean dietary intervention could lead to a reduction of liver fat by 39 percent compared to a current recommended healthy diet.

The Mediterranean diet provides a solid backbone for choosing meals, by offering highly palatable dishes that just happen to be good for the body. Because metabolic syndrome and fatty liver disease are becoming increasingly problematic, it is likely that the recipes found in the Mediterranean diet will move into the forefront of weight management and liver health programs., AASLD: Fatty Liver May Benefit from Mediterranean Diet, Michael Smith, Retrieved November 18, 2011, Everyday Health, Inc., 2011., The effect of the Spanish Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: a pilot study, Pérez-Guisado J, et al, Retrieved November 18, 2011, Journal of Medicinal Food, July-August 2011., The Mediterranean Diet Improves Liver Health - Regardless of Weight Loss, Retrieved November 18, 2011, The Sacramento Bee, 2011., Popular Diets of the World: The Mediterranean Diet, Jenny Stamos Kovacs, Retrieved November 18, 2011, WebMD, LLC, 2011.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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