Fatty liver disease: ‘Promising’ study shows supplement decreases fat in liver

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Researchers from the University of Jyväskylä, Finland, found that a dietary supplement, known to increase the growth of good bacteria in the gut, was linked to a lower fat content in the liver. Previously, the Academy of Finland Research Fellow Satu Pekkala and her research team were able to treat the fatty liver of mice. They did this by administering Faecalibacterium prausnitzii – a member of the gut microbiota with known anti-inflammatory properties.

“Unfortunately, this type of health-beneficial gut microbes cannot necessarily be sold at the pharmacies for human use,” Pekkala explained.

“So we wanted to find out whether we can increase its natural abundance in the gut with a prebiotic fibre.”

Thus, in the follow-on investigation, they discovered that Faecalibacterium prausnitzii was able to use prebiotic Xylo-oligosaccharides as food.

Prebiotics are fermented dietary components that can’t be digested in the gut, but serves as food for the gut microbes, such as lactobacilli.

For their next experiment, they induced fatty livers in rats who, at the same time, were fed a diet supplemented with prebiotic Xylo-oligosaccharides.

This three-month trial was more significant than the first because the prebiotic Xylo-oligosaccharides (XOS) can be found in natural shops and online stores.

“The results of the research showed that XOS increased the growth of the health-beneficial bacterium, and at the same time, significantly decreased the liver fat content of the rats,” Pekkala summarised.

As XOS is safe for human consumption, Pekkala and her team have now conducted XOS intervention in people who have a fatty liver.

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As the academic editor for a research paper published in February of this year, Pekkala revisited the use of prebiotics to treat fatty liver disease.

There is evidence that the gut microbes in patients with obesity, metabolic disorders and liver fat accumulation have lower diversity in their gut microbes.

Positive improvements in gut microbes can be correlated with improvement in hepatic steatosis (i.e. fatty liver).

The current nutritional recommendations for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease include:

  • Limiting the consumption of simple sugars, especially fructose
  • Eating foods rich in omega-3, such as oily fish
  • Eating dietary fibre, found in vegetables
  • Reducing calorie intake

Due to the “strong relationship” between diet, the disturbance of gut microbes, and fatty liver, “nutritional therapies focusing on remodulating the bacterial ecosystem appear to be particularly promising”.

In addition, mounting research has “highlighted the potential of prebiotics and probiotics in gut microbe restoration and among fatty liver patients”.

What’s the difference between prebiotics and probiotics?

The charity Guts UK explained that prebiotics can “feed and help our gut bacteria grow strong to benefit our overall ecosystem”.

Many plant foods contain prebiotics, such as: artichokes, asparagus, bananas, berries, tomatoes, garlic, onions, legumes, green vegetables and wholegrain cereals.

“Prebiotics can also be manufactured artificially and added into foods or supplements,” said Guts UK.

Probiotics, on the other hand, are considered food supplements, which can help improve diarrhoea and relieve digestive symptoms.

However, “there isn’t enough evidence to support other health claims” of probiotics.

“If you want to try a probiotics for a health problem, you should ask your GP or dietitian for advice,” said Guts UK.

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