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Promising Dietary Supplement for Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Written by Dr. Simi Paknikar, MD
Article Reviewed by 
The Medindia Medical Review Team on June 9, 2016 at 11:00 AM
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  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common liver disease in obese individuals
  • Astaxanthin, a pigment from an alga, has the potential to prevent and reverse liver changes associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Further research is required to establish its benefits in humans with the liver damage
A dietary pigment astaxanthin could probably be used as a tool to combat against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Research on this pigment in liver disease is being carried out by researcher Ji-Young Lee at the Department of Nutritional Sciences, University of Connecticut.

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Promising Dietary Supplement for Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
Promising Dietary Supplement for Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Fat accumulation in the liver can have serious consequences. It causes liver inflammation and liver dysfunction. Further worsening of the condition results in scar tissue formation and cirrhosis, and finally liver failure. Cirrhosis can also result in liver cancer. Alcohol is a common cause of fatty liver, though non-compulsive drinkers and teetotalers may also suffer from a similar liver disease called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Obesity is commonly linked with NAFLD, and the ever-growing number of obesity cases have only worsened the situation. Genetic predisposition is a common contributor to NALFD, along with a high fat diet and poor lifestyle habits.

Researcher Ji-Young Lee is exploring the use of a pigment called astaxanthin obtained from an alga Haematococcus pluvialis in patients with NAFLD. The pigment, which gives wild salmon its red color, has been found to have several benefits in preliminary animal studies. It is an antioxidant that has been shown to lower blood glucose, as well as cholesterol and triglycerides, the accumulation of which results in fatty liver. It also has anti-inflammatory properties and prevents cell damage. In addition, it prevents activation of a type of liver cells called stellate cells, which cause scar tissue formation, and may therefore prevent progression of NAFLD to the fibrosis and cirrhosis stages.
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Armed with a grant to carry on further research, Ji-Young Lee hopes to find a solution in astaxanthin in preventing as well as reversing changes caused by NAFLD, and its effects on genes responsible for NAFLD if any.

The use of astaxanthin in the prevention and treatment of liver damage will be particularly useful in vegetarians, who do not consume fish. It should however be remembered that there is nothing to replace a healthy lifestyle and intake of balanced diet to control obesity and its consequences.

References:
  1. Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis
    http://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/liver-disease/nonalcoholic-steatohepatitis/Pages/facts.aspx
  2. Yang Y, Kim B, Lee JY (2013) Astaxanthin Structure, Metabolism, and Health Benefits. J Hum Nutr Food Sci 1: 1003.
Source: Medindia

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