Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol
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Millions of people are believed to have early-stage fatty liver disease, but most are oblivious to this fact due to a lack of symptoms. There is increasing evidence that failure to manage the condition at the outset could pave the way for future complications. The findings of a new study, led by King’s College London, suggest fatty liver disease caused by eating too much sugar and fat could lead to severe forms of brain dysfunction.
Scientists from the University of Poitiers, in France, came to the finding after feeding two different diets to mice.
Half of the rodents were administered a diet with no more than 10 percent fat in their calorie intake, while the other half’s calorie intake contained 55 percent fat.
After 16 weeks, researchers conducted a series of tests to establish the effect of both dietary trends on the liver and the brain.
It transpired that mice consuming higher levels of fat were considered obese and developed NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease), insulin resistance and brain dysfunction.
Another key finding of the study was that mice in this group with NAFLD had lower levels of oxygen.
This suggests that the number and thickness of blood vessels are affected in NALFD, noted the researchers.
As a result, less oxygen is delivered to the tissue, and some cells start consuming more oxygen as the brain becomes inflamed.
The lead author of the study, Doctor Anna Hadjihambi, described the findings as “very concerning”.
She said: “It is very concerning to see the effect that fat accumulation in the liver can have on the brain, especially because it often starts off mild and can exist silently for many years without people knowing they have it.”
In an attempt to counter the deleterious effects of NALFD on the brain, the researchers bred mice with low levels of Monocarboxylate Transporter 1 (MCT1).
The protein is specialised in the transport of energy substrates used by various cells for their normal function.
When these mice followed the same diet rich in sugar and fat, they showed fewer signs of NAFLD and no sign of brain dysfunction.
The researchers noted that this opened interesting perspectives, offering a potential therapeutic target.
Doctor Hadjihambi added: “This research emphasises that cutting down the amount of sugar and fat in our diets is not only important for tackling obesity, but also for protecting the liver to maintain brain health and minimising the risk of developing conditions like depression and dementia during ageing, when our brains become even more fragile.”
The findings reinforce previous research published in the journal Neurology which suggests NAFLD could double the risk of dementia.
The research proposed that the link between NAFLD and dementia was likely driven by vascular damage to the brain, as well as inadequate blood flow.
Scientists have consistently shown that reduced blood flow to the brain and stiffer blood vessels leading to the organ are associated with dementia.
This is because when oxygen deprivation becomes chronic, the brain cells in the brain are eventually killed, causing marked cognitive deficits.
One major concern among scientists is the ongoing prevalence of liver disease, with 63 percent of adults in the UK being classed as obese and overweight.
The British Liver Trust estimates that one in three of these adults has early-stage NAFLD.
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