Liver, I Hardly Knew 'Er! — Analysis
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease covers a variety of liver-related problems, from the benign build up of fat to severe scarring (cirrhosis) and even total organ failure Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and the metabolic syndrome: effects of weight loss and a review of popular diets. Are low carbohydrate diets the answer? Gill, HK, GY, Wu. World Journal of Gastroenterology 2006 Jan 21; 12(3):345-53.. Research has yet to find the ultimate cause of the disease, but it's been consistently linked to obesity, high cholesterol, and at times rapid weight loss. While the effects of the disease vary greatly with its severity and are usually reversible, it isn't rare enough to be ignored. It has been estimated that 20% of the general population (and a whopping 75% of obese individuals) in the US currently has some level of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Studies suggests cutting carbs could help reduce the effects of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. A recent study, conducted over two weeks, found that by reducing carbohydrate intake alone, individuals reduced fat build up in the liver by up to 42% Short-term weight loss and hepatic triglyceride reduction: evidence of a metabolic advantage with dietary carbohydrate restriction. Browning, J.D., Baker, J.A., Rogers, T., et al. Departments of Internal Medicine, The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 2011 May; 93(5):1048-52. Epub 2011 Mar 2.. Another study found that reducing carbohydrate consumption led to a decrease in weight, cholesterol levels, and insulin levels, which can also combat the negative effects nonalcoholic fatty liver disease Effect of two different hypocaloric diets in tansaminases and insulin resistance in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and obesity. deLuis, D.A., Aller, R., Izaola, O., et al. Institute of Endocrinology and Nutrition, Valladolid, Spain. Nutrition Hospital 2009 Sep: 25(5): 630-5. Although these studies present an inexpensive, drug-free way to improve health, it's important to note that the sample sizes for these studies were small and did not cover a long period of time.
Current treatment options for the disease involve a cocktail of drugs and gradual weight loss, though neither are a surefire cure. Since obesity is one of the biggest health risk factors for Americans— an estimated 25% of the U.S. population is obese— the reduction of carbohydrates may just be a new addition in the arsenal used to treat and prevent liver disease as well as obesity.
New research suggests cutting carbs may help reduce the effects of fatty liver disease.