By Maureen Williams, ND
Healthnotes Newswire (June 3, 2010)—Alcohol is not the only danger our livers face day to day: insulin resistance, a common condition in which blood sugar isn’t used properly in the body, can trigger a condition known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. First evidenced by fat deposits forming in liver cells, severe cases cause inflammation and scarring, called steatohepatitis, which can eventually progress to cirrhosis and liver failure.
Taking steps to improve insulin sensitivity and the way the body uses carbohydrates can help reverse the damaging effects of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, and now a new study has found that vitamin E supplements may reduce fatty deposits and inflammation in people with this disease as well.
Rescuing the liver
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, included 247 people with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. They were randomly assigned to receive 800 IU of vitamin E per day, 30 mg of a medication used to increase insulin sensitivity (pioglitazone) per day, or placebo for 96 weeks. They underwent liver biopsies at the beginning and end of the trial and were monitored for 24 weeks after the end of treatment. The findings were as follows:
• Steatohepatitis improved in both the vitamin E and medication groups compared with placebo, but the difference between medication and placebo was not statistically significant.
• Medication and supplement reduced fatty deposits and inflammation in both treatment groups compared with placebo.
• Liver function tests improved in both treatment groups.
• Insulin resistance improved only in the medication group, but this group also experienced an average weight gain of 4.7 kg (10.3 pounds) that was not lost after stopping the medication.
Repairing the liver with vitamin E
Although the exact cause of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis is not fully understood, insulin resistance and obesity clearly play a role. The primary finding of this study—“vitamin E was superior to placebo for the treatment of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis in adults without diabetes” —suggests that oxidative damage might also contribute to liver cell injury in people with this condition.
Taking steps to improve metabolism and to reduce cell damage caused by unstable compounds in the environment may be the best way to reverse nonalcoholic steatohepatitis:
• Stick to a low-glycemic-load diet. This type of diet has the best effect on blood sugar control, insulin sensitivity, and weight loss. Researchers have found that people with steatohepatitis can reduce liver injury through diet and weight loss.
• Exercise regularly. Physical activity improves insulin sensitivity and carbohydrate metabolism, and facilitates weight loss.
• Aim for gradual weight loss (about 1 to 2 pounds per week). There is some evidence that rapid weight loss may actually worsen fatty liver disease.
• Eat foods high in vitamin E, especially nuts and seeds. Not only are these the richest sources of vitamin E, they also have low glycemic loads and protect against cardiovascular disease.
• Consider adding a vitamin E supplement. Add 800 IU of vitamin E per day to help protect your liver.
Maureen Williams, ND, received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania and her Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Seattle, WA. She has a private practice on Cortes Island in British Columbia, Canada, and has done extensive work with traditional herbal medicine in Guatemala and Honduras. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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