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Curcumin May Help Prevent, Treat Fatty Liver Disease


If you have or are at risk for developing fatty liver disease, then you may want to dig into some curry. Scientists are suggesting that curcumin, the poignant chemical in turmeric that gives curried dishes their punch, may help prevent or treat liver damage associated with this common disease.

Fatty liver disease is associated with obesity

At Saint Louis University, Anping Chen, PhD, director of research in the pathology department, has conducted studies which suggest that “curcumin may be an effective therapy to treat and prevent liver fibrosis, which is associated with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).”

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, according to the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), is a group of conditions in which excess fat accumulates in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol. The most common form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a nonserious condition called fatty liver, while a more critical condition is named non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). People with NASH experience liver cell inflammation and liver scarring.

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The ACG reports that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease affects up to 20 percent of adults and nearly 5 percent of children. Obesity is believed to be the most common cause of fatty liver, and it is estimated that up to 20 percent of obese adults have NASH. NASH can lead to a more serious type of liver damage called liver fibrosis and possibly cirrhosis, liver cancer, and death.

Chen’s research has included evaluation of the effect of curcumin on high levels of leptin, a hormone that plays a key role in fat metabolism. High levels of leptin are often found in people who are obese and who have type 2 diabetes, and “leptin plays a critical role in the development of liver fibrosis,” notes Chen.

High levels of leptin stimulate a specific type of liver cells (hepatic stellate cells) that cause overproduction of collagen, a key characteristic of liver fibrosis. Chen and his team found that curcumin eliminated the impact of leptin on hepatic stellate cells, which in turn interfered with the development of liver damage.

While these are preliminary findings and thus the role of curcumin in fatty liver disease is still uncertain, other studies have shown the spice to be associated with other health benefits, such as providing relief for people with inflammatory bowel disease, fighting infections, helping destroy ovarian cancer cells, and enhancing the powers of chemotherapy drugs in the treatment of neck and head cancer.

American College of Gastroenterology
Tang Y, Chen A. Endocrinology 2010 Sep; 151: 4168-77

Updated April 2, 2014