What is the best way to take care of your liver through diet? And can periods of fasting help reduce fat in the liver?
There are lots of good reasons to reduce the fat content of the liver, because too much fat in the liver carries an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. But what action should we take? What is the best way to take care of your liver? Dr Amalie London of Hvidovre Hospital will try to find answers to these questions through her PhD project, which has just been supported by the Danish Diabetes Academy to the tune of DKK 1.1 million.
To be precise, her goal is to clarify what dietary changes should be recommended to people with too much fat in their liver – a large group of overweight people including individuals with type 2 diabetes. She also hopes that her studies will shed light on the regulatory mechanisms linking fat accumulation in the liver to sugar and fat metabolism disturbances, and that this knowledge will contribute to the development of new drugs and/or dietary interventions for people with type 2 diabetes.
As Amalie London notes, not only does the liver play an important part in the regulation of blood sugar and levels of fats such as cholesterol in the blood; fat in the liver causes liver diseases that, at their most severe, can lead to cirrhosis. There are therefore many good reasons to reduce the liver’s fat content, she says.
The specific aim of the PhD project is to learn about the effect on sugar and fat metabolism of dietary changes specially designed to reduce the liver’s fat content. This will be studied in overweight individuals in two different short-term (1-2 week) dietary studies, as previous studies have shown that the liver reacts very quickly to dietary changes. In the first study, the effects of 5 days on a high-carbohydrate/low-fat diet will be compared with the effects of 5 days on a low-carbohydrate/high-fat diet. The diet is designed not to cause changes in weight, and the hypothesis is that a high-carbohydrate diet causes increased hepatic fat, higher fasting blood sugar and increased fat in the blood, while a high fat content has the opposite effect, says Amalie London.
In the second study, she will investigate whether the ‘5+2 diet’, which consists of 2 days a week of very low energy intake and 5 days a week of unrestricted energy intake, is more effective in reducing the fat content of the liver than a normal weight-loss diet involving eating a bit less every day of the week.
The project will be a collaboration between Hvidovre Hospital and the Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen.
Weight loss is currently used to treat fatty liver, so the recommendation is to eat fewer calories and take exercise. Preliminary studies suggest that it may be possible to reduce the liver’s fat content by changing the composition (carbohydrate and fat content) of the diet without the need to lose weight. Similarly, it seems possible that changes to the interval between eating and fasting may have particular effects on the fat content of the liver. Whether these dietary changes also have beneficial effects on the regulation of blood sugar and the blood’s lipid profile is unknown.
Amalie London MD
Hvidovre Hospital and Department of Nutrition, Exercise and Sports, University of Copenhagen