Category Archives: Liver Disease

Yet Another Epidemic: Fatty Liver In Teens

MedPage Today on May 25, 2012 has an article documenting the rise of fatty liver disease in U.S. teenagers.  Prevalence is now up to one in 10 teens.

An expert quoted in the article says it’s tied in with the rise of childhood obesity.

Youth obesity in the U.S. tripled from the early 1980s to 2000, ending with a 17% obesity rate. Overweight and obesity together describe 32% of U.S. children. Some experts believe this generation of kids will be the first in U.S. history to suffer a decline in life expectancy, related to obesity.

I wrote about a small research study that found a very-low-carb diet more effective against fatty liver, compared to a low-calorie diet.  But that involved adults.

University of Colorado researchers indicate that for weight loss, a low-carb, high-protein diet is safe and effective in adolescents.

Diet researchers found in 2008 that a modified low-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet had significant potential to reduce fatty liver.  My Low-Carb Mediterranean Diet (minus the wine option) would probably help overweight teens with fatty liver disease, but it’s never been tested in such a clinical trial.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Low-Carb Diet Beats Low-Calorie for Treating Fatty Liver

Loss of excess weight is a mainstay of therapy for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. A very-low-carb diet works better than a reduced-calorie diet, according to a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs in 20 to 40% of the general population, with most cases occuring between the ages of 40 and 60. It’s an accumulation of triglycerides in the liver. For every week I work in the hospital, I see five or 10 scans (either CT scans or sonograms) that incidentally show fat build-up in the liver.

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a subset of NAFLD, perhaps 30% of those with NAFLD. Steatohepatitis involves an inflammatory component, progressing to cirrhosis in 3 to 26% of cases.

Researchers at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center assigned 18 obese subjects (average BMI 35) to either a very-low-carb diet (under 20 grams a day) or a low-calorie diet (1200 to 1500 calories a day) for two weeks. Liver fat was measured by magnetic resonance technology. The low-carb groups’ liver fat decreased by 55% compared to 28% in the other group. Weight loss was about the same for both groups (4.6 vs 4 kg).

Bottom Line

This small study needs to be replicated, ideally with a larger group of subjects studied over a longer period. Nevertheless, it appears that a very-low-carb diet may be one of the best dietary approaches to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. And I bet it’s more sustainable than severe calorie restriction. The Ketogenic Mediterranean Diet, by the way, provides 20-30 grams of carb daily.

Steve Parker, M.D.

Reference: Browning, Jeffrey, et al. Short-term weight loss and hepatic triglyceride reduction: evidence of a metabolic advantage with dietary carbohydrate restriction. Am J Clin Nutr, May 2011 vol. 93 no. 5 1048-1052. doi: 10.3945/ajcn.110.007674