(NaturalHealth365) Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common chronic liver condition in the world, with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases reporting that “between 30 and 40 percent of adults in the United States have NAFLD.” But, they fail to tell us how probiotic supplementation can help. (more on that later in this article)
While some cases of NAFLD are relatively mild, this health issue can potentially lead to life-threatening complications such as liver cancer, cirrhosis and liver failure. And, while Western medicine struggles to develop effective (drug) therapies, studies do reveal that natural interventions, such as the consumption of probiotics, have seen some success in delaying and even reversing the progression of NAFLD.
Probiotic research reveals: ‘The health of the liver is inseparable from the health of the gut’
In nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, unhealthy deposits of fats accumulate in the liver cells of patients whose alcohol use ranges from zero to minimal. Experts say that the high prevalence of NAFLD is linked to soaring rates of metabolic syndrome, diabetes and obesity. As two thirds of the adult population in the United States is overweight or obese, this health problem doesn’t appear likely to fade away anytime soon.
Warning: In about a third of the cases, NAFLD progresses to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH – a more serious form of the disease. And, roughly 20 percent of this group will develop liver fibrosis and cirrhosis, accompanied by increased risk of liver cancer and liver failure.
Increasingly, researchers say that proper balance in the gut microbiota – a community of trillions of microorganisms from over a thousand species – is essential for health. Dysbiosis, an imbalance in these beneficial digestive flora, can not only cause gastrointestinal conditions such as celiac disease and IBD, but can also trigger obesity, diabetes, heart disease, autism and NAFLD.
Specifically, the “leaky gut” caused by dysbiosis contributes to NAFLD by allowing entry of liver-damaging toxins. And, in a compelling discovery, scientists have found that NAFLD patients have low levels of one particular species of beneficial bacteria.
This emerging research has led scientists to take a closer look at the role of probiotics in treating NAFLD.
It’s official: Probiotics can delay the dangerous progression of NAFLD
In a 28-day study recently published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 52 patients with NAFLD were divided into two groups. Both groups received recommendations for healthier diet and exercise routines, but only one group received probiotic and prebiotic supplements twice a day.
And the results were quite revealing.
The team found that the probiotic-supplemented group experienced greater reductions in liver inflammation than the control group. While both groups showed improvement in levels of liver enzymes – such as alanine aminotransferase (ALT) – the improvement was much more pronounced in the probiotic group.
In addition, the probiotic group had a 300 percent reduction in the formation of fibrous tissue injury over the control group. And, this is not the only research to demonstrate the healing effects of probiotic supplements.
In a scientific review of studies published last year in Hepatology Research, the authors analyzed 9 different randomized controlled trials involving 535 adults and children with NAFLD. They reported that the patients treated with probiotics had “significant” improvements in total cholesterol, liver enzymes, accumulation of fat in the liver and inflammatory markers.
In a study published in 2017 in Nature, the team reported that probiotics inhibited the proliferation of harmful bacteria and improved gastrointestinal barrier function. (In other words, they helped to reverse the “leaky gut” that is implicated in the development of NAFLD).
The researchers concluded that probiotics could “delay the progression” of NAFLD to NASH – a very encouraging finding.
Researchers confirm the link between microbiota balance and liver health
An important study published in 2014 in World Journal of Gastroenterology highlighted the connection between the community of intestinal microorganisms and liver health.
The researchers reported that probiotics “markedly” reduced concentrations of fat in the liver, as well as decreasing oxidative and inflammatory damage. Specifically, the team credited a formulation known as Bio-Flora – a mixture of lactobacilli and vitamins – with improving liver function and decreasing levels of liver enzymes.
Noting that dysbiosis and “low bacterial richness” may play a role in NAFLD, the researchers called probiotic therapy “promising.” Expressing surprise that so few studies exist on the relationship between probiotics and NAFLD, the team called for more research.
How should I take probiotics to support liver health?
Simply put, probiotics are functional foods or supplements that encourage the presence of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract. Prebiotics, which are non-digestible carbohydrates, are a direct source of food for friendly bacteria.
Prebiotics are found in good supply in whole, organic foods such as tomatoes, onions, bananas, honey, barley, garlic and wheat. Prebiotics are also available as supplements – in the form of FOS, or fructooligosaccharides.
Primary dietary sources of probiotics are sauerkraut, yogurt with live acidophilus cultures, miso and tempeh. (to name a few)
Supplementary probiotics are available in freeze-dried powders and liquids. For maintaining intestinal health, an integrative practitioner might recommend amounts ranging from 1 to 15 billion CFUs – or colony-forming units – a day. But, in the presence of a health crisis, more CFUs are often better.
Naturally, we suggest that you consult with an experienced healthcare provider – to see what’s best for you. Ust keep in mind: building up the dosage (over time with caution) is often required when trying to improve digestive health.
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