New research finds that a dietary supplement may be able to prevent fatty liver disease. The study from the University of Jyväskylä used rats to find that increasing the growth of good bacteria in the gut could decrease fat in the liver.
Fatty liver occurs when the body produces too much fat or does not metabolize fat efficiently enough. The excess fat is stored in liver cells, where it accumulates and causes fatty liver disease. It is estimated that as many as 20% of American adults have some degree of fatty liver disease. This condition used to occur almost exclusively in people who drink excessively.
However, the epidemics of obesity and diabetes are now thought to be a major contributor. Fatty liver affects between 70% and 90% of people with those conditions, so as obesity and diabetes have become more common, so has fatty liver disease.
In previous studies, Finland researcher Satu Pekkala and her colleagues were able to treat mice’s fatty liver by administering Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, a member of the gut microbiota with known anti-inflammatory properties. In this most recent study, researchers fed rats with a dietary supplement that partly prevented the fatty liver of rats.
Pekkala explains, “Unfortunately, this type of health-beneficial gut microbes cannot necessarily be sold at the pharmacies for human use. So, we wanted to find out whether we can increase its natural abundance in the gut with a prebiotic fiber.”
Prebiotics are an indigestible form of fiber found in some (but not all) fruits, vegetables, and starches. It cannot be digested in the gut but serves as food for the good gut microbes, such as lactobacilli.
Increasing Gut Bacteria
During the study, researchers found that Faecalibacterium prausnitzii was able to use prebiotic Xylo-oligosaccharides (XOS) as food, which increased its growth. The dietary supplement XOS can be found in natural specialty shops and online stores.
After these positive results were associated, researchers performed a dietary intervention in rats in which fatty liver was induced. At the same time, they were also fed a diet supplemented with XOS for 12 weeks.
In conclusion of the study, Pekkala explained, “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.”
This was the first study to show positive effects for XOS and that the most important contributing factors to the reduced liver fat were improved glucose metabolism and hepatic fat. This conclusion of this study was found in rats. However, Pekkala and her team have conducted additional research on humans, and the preliminary results seem promising.
As fatty liver disease becomes more prevalent in those with diabetes and obesity, it is essential to find ways to prevent the condition. Without proper treatment, fatty liver disease can develop into cirrhosis or even hepatic cancer.