Are meats bad for liver health?

07/12/2020

A recent new study led by Dr. Sarwa Darwish Murad, a Hepatologist at Erasmus MC University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, has established that consuming a lot of animal protein may be more likely to have a tendency to store excessive fat in the liver.

This fact puts this population at a higher risk of liver disease than persons dependent on a vegetarian diet for their source of protein. The researchers examined liver scans of 3,882 adults who were 70 years old on average and found 34% had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in 132 individuals who were a healthy weight and 1,205 who were overweight.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common condition in which liver damage occurs as a result of excessive fat deposition in the liver. NAFLD is usually associated with obesity and certain eating habits.

It is called a Fatty liver when more than 5% of the liver by weight is made up of fat. Excessive drinking can also damage the liver and cause fat to accumulate, a condition known as alcoholic fatty liver disease. Both these conditions can progress to liver cirrhosis, which mainly means scarred liver with progressive loss of liver function and inability to regenerate. This ultimately leads to liver failure for which the only treatment option is a possible liver transplant. Fatty liver disease is also an important risk factor for developing liver cancer.

Within the Asia Pacific, Asian‐Indians are more susceptible to NAFLD. Various studies from across India have shown a major difference between rural and urban parts of the country. The highest prevalence reported is close to 30% in urban areas.

A recent Dutch study revealed that people who ate the most animal protein were 54% more likely to have fatty liver. Red meat especially contains saturated fat, which increases the risk of fatty liver. Processed meats are particularly unhealthy because they have been modified to either extend the shelf life or change the taste by smoking, curing, or adding salt or preservatives. These seem to trigger an inflammatory cascade in the liver and so contributing to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the inability to respond normally to the circulating hormone insulin and can lead to elevated blood sugar levels and Type 2 diabetes.

The current Dutch study results add to the evidence suggesting that people should limit red and processed meat and follow a Mediterranean diet. Mediterranean diet is rich in whole grains, fish, lean protein, veggies and olive oil. If meat was to be included in the diet, it is advised that people should eat red meat only once or twice a week and that processed meat should be avoided or consumed only rarely. Healthy eating habits can minimize the risk of fatty liver disease, even when people have a genetic risk for this condition.

Dr Chandan Kumar
MD, DM(Hepatology)
Senior Consultant & Lead Transplant Physician

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article belong solely to the author. They do not reflect the opinions or views of the organization.

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