Even chicken, turkey and lean steak can cause fatty liver disease: People on a protein-rich diet of meat are 54% more likely to develop the deadly disease
- Compared to those who rely on vegetables as their main source of protein
- Red meat is rich in saturated fat, which may accumulate in the liver
- Experts hope the study will encourage people to eat a Mediterranean diet
People who eat lots of meat – even if it is just chicken, turkey and lean steak – are more at risk of liver disease, research suggests.
A study found those whose main source of protein comes from animal products are 54 per cent more likely to develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) than those who eat a more plant-based diet.
Red meat in particular is a high source of saturated fat, which may accumulate in the liver and eventually cause the organ to fail.
Experts hope the study will encourage people to adopt a Mediterranean diet rich in fish, whole grains and vegetables.
People who eat lots of meat – even if it is just chicken – are more at risk of liver disease (stock)
The research was carried out by the Erasmus MC University Medical Centre in Rotterdam and led by Dr Sarwa Darwish Murad, from the department of gastroenterology and hepatology.
NAFLD describes a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver that has not been triggered by alcohol.
A healthy liver should have next to no fat, with even just small amounts being defined as the early stages of NAFLD.
Around one in three people in the UK have the early stages of NAFLD, which is more common in those who are overweight or obese, NHS statistics reveal.
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And the condition affects 15-to-20 per cent of Americans to some extent, according to the Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, New York.
Although not particularly serious in its initial stages, NAFLD can lead to severe liver damage, including scarring – known as cirrhosis – which can cause deadly liver failure.
To determine how food can influence a person’s NAFLD risk, the researchers examined the dietary questionnaires and liver fat scans of 3,882 adults with an average age of 70.
None of the participants were taking steatogenic drugs or had viral hepatitis, both of which can cause fat to accumulate in the liver.
Some 34 per cent (1,337) of them had NAFLD, of which 1,205 were overweight.
Results – published in the journal Gut – revealed those who were overweight and ate the most animal protein were 54 per cent more likely to have NAFLD than those who consumed the least animal protein.
This remained the same after adjusting for socioeconomic factors and lifestyle, according to Dr Darwish Murad.
‘Perhaps most importantly, the association was independent of total caloric intake,’ she said.
The participants without NAFLD actually ate more calories than those with the condition at 2,052kcal compared to 1,996kcal.
And the amount of calories from protein-rich foods was also similar between the two groups, at 16 per cent in those with NAFLD versus 15.4 per cent in the participants without the disease.
‘We also showed that a diverse diet is important,’ Dr Darwish Murad said.
Professor Shira Zelber-Sagi, head of nutrition, health and behavior at the University of Haifa in Israel – who was not involved in the study – believes the research demonstrates the importance of a plant-based diet to minimise the risk of NAFLD.
‘Meat contains saturated fat, especially red meat, which induces fatty liver,’ she said.
And processed meat – which has been modified to extend its shelf life or change its taste – can cause inflammation and insulin resistance, which both contribute to NAFLD, Professor Zelber-Sagi adds.
Insulin resistance prevents the body responding to the blood sugar-lowering hormone, which can trigger diabetes.
Professor Zelber-Sagi advises people limit their consumption of red or processed meat and opt for a Mediterranean diet.
WHAT IS FATTY LIVER DISEASE?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by too much fat being stored in the organ’s cells.
The disease can cause scarring and irreversible damage to the liver, and can progress to cirrhosis (scarring) and organ failure.
Fatty liver disease usually causes no signs and symptoms, but they can include an enlarged liver, fatigue and abdomen pain.
The illness is caused by obesity, insulin resistance, high blood sugar and high levels of fat in the blood.
Risk of contracting the disease is increased in people with high cholesterol, fat concentrated in the abdomen, sleep apnea and Type 2 diabetes.
A nutritious diet, maintaining a healthy weight and exercising regularly can reduce the risk of fatty liver disease.
Source: Mayo Clinic
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