2016 Articles and Releases

Natural Sugar May Treat Fatty Liver Disease

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition closely linked to obesity, affects roughly 25 percent of people in the U.S. There is no drug treatment for the disease, although weight loss can reduce the buildup of fat in the liver.

“In general, if you feed a mouse a high-sugar diet, it gets a fatty liver,” said first author Brian J. DeBosch, MD, PhD, a pediatric gastroenterologist. “We found that if you feed a mouse a diet high in fructose plus provide drinking water that contains three percent trehalose, you completely block the development of a fatty liver. Those mice also had lower body weights at the end of the study and lower levels of circulating cholesterol, fatty acids and triglycerides.”

Evidence suggests that nonalcoholic fatty liver disease develops as the liver works hard to process dietary sugar, especially fructose, found naturally in fruit but also added as high-fructose corn syrup to soft drinks and many processed foods. Ultimately, the body stores fructose in the liver as fats called triglycerides. In severe cases of the disease, the fat can build up to toxic levels that may eventually require a liver transplant.

Trehalose is a natural sugar found in plants and insects and consists of two glucose molecules bound together. While it is approved by the Food and Drug Administration for human consumption, DeBosch cautions that more research is required before trehalose could be tested in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease as part of a clinical trial.

“I can’t recommend it to my patients yet,” said DeBosch, who sees patients at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “We know the mice that received drinking water with three percent trehalose lost weight, and we suspect that weight loss was due to loss of fat, but we can’t be certain that’s the only effect. We need more studies to make sure they were not losing bone or muscle mass.”

In the meantime, DeBosch advises his patients to avoid foods with added fructose, especially sugar-sweetened beverages. Click here to learn more.

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