Can switching to a Mediterranean diet help those with liver disease? Experts say YES
06/10/2020 // Evangelyn Rodriguez // Views

In the 1960s, inhabitants of Crete, Greece and Southern Italy had some of the lowest rates of chronic diseases and some of the highest life expectancies in the world. According to research, this was the result of eating more fruits and vegetables traditionally grown in their region, as well as plenty of nuts, seeds, beans, seafood and olive oil. This eating pattern came to be known as the Mediterranean diet, and numerous studies have associated it with lower risks of serious conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and cognitive impairment.

But the benefits of the Mediterranean diet are not limited to just disease prevention. In a recent study, Greek researchers investigated how the diet could help patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) or simple steatosis. They found that adhering to the Mediterranean diet for 24 weeks resulted in significant improvements, particularly in the clinical, biochemical and inflammatory profiles of NAFLD patients. Their full report about these findings was published in the Journal of Medicinal Food.

The Mediterranean diet improves liver health in patients with NAFLD

Diet is a modifiable key factor in the development of diseases. As such, it is often targeted in the prevention and/or management of health conditions, including NAFLD.

To understand how the Mediterranean diet can impact the health of NAFLD patients, the researchers conducted a non-randomized, open-label, 24-week prospective intervention study involving 44 untreated NAFLD patients with non-significant liver fibrosis (scarring). These patients received nutritional counseling to increase their adherence to the Mediterranean diet, which was estimated using a computer program called MedDietScore.


The researchers also looked for potential associations between a genetic variant of STAT3 (STAT3 rs2293152) and diet composition and patient profile. The STAT3 gene encodes for a protein that is active in tissues throughout the body. This protein is involved in the regulation of cell survival, cell death and inflammation.

Animal studies show that in the liver, STAT3 activation promotes the survival of liver cells, induces regeneration and ameliorates steatosis, or the abnormal retention of fat. However, variations in the genetic sequence of STAT3, which occur naturally, have been linked to NAFLD.

Based on data from MedDietScore, the researchers reported that adherence to the Mediterranean diet improved anthropometric indices in all NAFLD patients. Compared with baseline results, the Mediterranean diet improved the patients' liver imaging results, liver fibrosis scores, blood pressure, fasting glucose, glycated hemoglobin (HbA1c), C-reactive protein (CRP), visfatin and oxidized low-density lipoprotein levels.

On the other hand, the researchers found no association between STAT3 rs2293152 and diet composition. Only the levels of visfatin, a protein produced by visceral fat that mimics the function of insulin, was significantly associated with the STAT3 genotype. In particular, the researchers found that those with the STAT3 rs2293152 G-allele experienced an increase in visfatin levels, as well as more beneficial changes than other patients at the end of the intervention.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that following the Mediterranean diet can benefit patients with NAFLD.

Other health benefits of the Mediterranean diet

The Mediterranean diet promotes the consumption of more plant-based foods and only small amounts of red meat. It also recommends eating only moderate amounts of eggs, poultry and dairy products and emphasizes the importance of fiber and healthy fats. These nutrients are usually obtained from whole grains, as well as seafood like fatty fish, nuts, seeds and olive oil.

Besides eating fresh and organic produce, the Mediterranean diet promotes being physically active and sharing meals with others. The combination of these three are said to provide the following benefits:

Unlike other diets, the Mediterranean diet is not restrictive and is very easy to follow. Without hard and fast rules, this eating pattern can easily be adapted to suit your preferences. Practice healthy eating with the Mediterranean diet and enjoy the benefits it offers for your heart, brain, liver and mental health.

Sources include:

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