Fewer carbs short-term gets rid of liver fat

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
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Patients looking to get rid of fat in the liver would do well by lowering carbohydrate intake short-term, instead of trying to cut back on calories. Findings from UT Southwestern Medical Center show it's possible to quickly reduce fat in the liver from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in as little as one month by limiting carbohydrate intake.

Low carbs compared to fewer calories for fatty liver

For the study, the researchers assigned participants with fatty liver either a low calorie or low carbohydrate diet. After two weeks, the investigators scanned groups, comparing the difference in fat in the liver between the two groups.

For the low calorie diet, participants were instructed to continue eating their normal diet and keep a food diary, four days before the start of the study. Researchers used the diaries to prepare meals, but lowered the amount of calories to approximately 1,200 a day for women and 1,500 a day for men.

The low carbohydrate group limited carbohydrates to 20 grams a day for the first 7 days then switched to prepared meals from the UT Southwestern’s Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC) kitchen that met energy needs for carbohydrate intake and based on food preferences.

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After two weeks, imaging studies found low carbohydrate intake led to a greater loss of liver fat than limiting calories, even though both groups lost an average of 10 pounds.

The researchers warn since the study was only for 14 days, the findings cannot be extended beyond that period. Dr. Jeffrey Browning, assistant professor of internal medicine at UT Southwestern and the study’s lead author says, “What this study tells us is that if your doctor says that you need to reduce the amount of fat in your liver, you can do something within a month."

Weight loss, he says, is still the best way to lose liver fat, but in the short-term, a low carb diet got rid of fat in the liver for the group studied. Brown says he does not advocate either a low fat or low carb diet, but for patients who want to "quickly" reduce fat in liver cells, the study showed limiting carbohydrates is effective.

The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: doi: 10.3945/​ajcn.110.007674
"Short-term weight loss and hepatic triglyceride reduction: evidence of a metabolic advantage with dietary carbohydrate restriction"
Jeffrey D Browning, Jonathan A Baker, Thomas Rogers, Jeannie Davis, Santhosh Satapati, and Shawn C Burgess

Image credit: Wikimedia commons

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