Eating a low amount of sugar could reduce fatty liver in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), researchers suggest.
The researchers concentrated on reducing dietary free sugars, which include sugars added to foods or beverages and also those naturally present in honey, syrups and unsweetened fruit juices. Glucose, fructose and sucrose are examples of free sugars commonly found in foods.
These sugars can increase the risk of obesity and type 2 diabetes, and NAFLD – a common condition where fat accumulates in the liver that is associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Forty boys aged 11-16 were included in this study, all of whom had NAFLD. They were randomised to receive a diet low in free sugars (less than 3% of their daily caloric intake) or eat their normal diet.
The boys’ progress was monitored between August 2015-July 2017 through twice-weekly telephone calls, which assessed their adherence to their respective diets.
Those on the low sugar diet had a reduction in liver fat from 25% to 17%, while the boys eating their normal diet only experienced a reduction from 21% to 20%.
Two other forms of liver health were also significantly improved in the intervention diet group than for the normal diet group. No adverse events were observed among the participants in either group.
“Our study shows that children and their families can follow a diet low in free sugars for up to eight weeks when the research team plans, purchases and provides all meals. Although this would not be widely practical, it shows that this kind of intervention reduces NAFLD biomarkers at least in the short term,” said first author Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, MD, professor of clinical pediatrics at University of California San Diego School of Medicine.
Dr Schwimmer and colleagues noted that additional research will be required to demonstrate long-term clinical benefit of a low sugar diet on NAFLD, and to investigate other implications that going low sugar could have for children in clinical practice.
Senior author Dr Miriam Vos, who works at Emory University School of Medicine, added: “Our results show that if a child with NAFLD consumes a very low amount of sugars in their diet, both fat and inflammation in the liver improves. We are excited by the highly significant results but also realize that a longer study will be needed in order to understand if sugar reduction is sufficient to ‘cure’ NAFLD.”
The results have been published in JAMA Network.