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More Protein after Weight Loss May Reduce Fatty Liver Disease

Increased protein during weight maintenance also reduces risk of type 2 diabetes

Rockville, Md. (August 16, 2018)—Increasing the amount of protein in the diet may reduce the liver’s fat content and lower the risk of diabetes in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).  The study is published ahead of print in the American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism.

NAFLD—sometimes referred to as a “fatty liver”—occurs when more than 5 percent of the liver’s total weight is made up of fatty tissue. Excessive fat in the liver can lead to scarring, which may increase the risk of liver cancer or liver failure. People with NAFLD are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes and vice versa. An estimated 70 percent of people with type 2 diabetes also have a fatty liver. Obesity is also a major risk factor for NAFLD.

Previous studies have found that short-term protein supplementation helps reduce the fat content in the liver, but there have been few studies on the long-term effects of protein on NAFLD. Researchers conducted a two-year study to determine the long-term impact of dietary protein on a fatty liver after weight loss. This study was part of the PREVIEW study, which aims to identify the most efficient lifestyle pattern for the prevention of type 2 diabetes in a population of pre-diabetic overweight or obese individuals.

Twenty-five adult volunteers—15 of whom had been previously diagnosed with NAFLD—participated in a low-calorie diet for eight weeks to lose up to 8 percent of their body weight. After weight loss, the volunteers were directed to maintain their weight for two years and to follow either a moderate- or high-protein diet averaging from 0.8 to 1 grams of protein per kilogram (2.2 pounds) of body weight. The research team took blood and urine samples and performed body scans to assess liver fat content and the amount of protein eliminated from the volunteers’ bodies at three intervals: the start of the weight maintenance phase and again six months and then two years later.

After two years maintaining their weight loss, the increase in dietary protein was associated with reduced liver fat content in the volunteers. In addition, more than half of the participants who were previously diagnosed with NAFLD no longer had a fatty liver.

“These findings stress the clinical implications and potential benefits of increased protein intake after weight loss for people with NAFLD at risk to develop diabetes,” the researchers wrote.

Read the full article, “Long-term effects of increased protein intake after weight loss on intrahepatic lipid content and implications for insulin sensitivity - a PREVIEW study,” published ahead of print in the American Journal of Physiology—Endocrinology and Metabolism.

NOTE TO JOURNALISTS: To schedule an interview with a member of the research team, please contact the APS Communications Office or 301-634-7209. Find more research highlights in the APS Press Room.

Physiology is the study of how molecules, cells, tissues and organs function in health and disease. Established in 1887, the American Physiological Society (APS) was the first U.S. society in the biomedical sciences field. The Society represents more than 10,500 members and publishes 15 peer-reviewed journals with a worldwide readership.

 


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