Modern life takes a heavy toll on the liver. Alcohol, prescription drugs, over-the-counter medicines, environmental toxins. Every day, we assault this vital organ with one damaging chemical after another, expecting it to process it all and detoxify our systems without complaining. Here’s a sobering thought for you. It is possible to develop cirrhosis of the liver, a potentially life-threatening condition, without consuming a drop of alcohol. Did you know that even being overweight can bring on symptoms of liver disease?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs when fatty deposits accumulate in the liver for reasons not involving chronic alcohol abuse. Excess fat around the liver can cause inflammation and scarring, a condition known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) the most severe form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. A major contributor to the development of cirrhosis of the liver, NASH has been found to respond to treatments for type 2 diabetes, such as weight loss or the drug, metformin. Evidence from knockout mice and from separate histological studies suggest that vitamin E may also help to alleviate the symptoms of NASH.
Vitamin E and the knockout mice
In one series of experiments, presented at the April 2013 meeting of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, mice were genetically engineered with a deficiency in alpha-tocopherol transfer protein (αTTP), a molecule necessary for proper utilization of vitamin E. In these experiments, the piece of DNA that encodes the protein was replaced with an artificial DNA segment. Both TTP-null and normal mice were placed on a vitamin E-deficient diet. The knockout mice showed signs of NAFLD which was reversible when the mice were supplemented with vitamin E.
The conclusion that vitamin E may help to reduce NASH is supported by changes observed in histological sections of liver tissue before and after supplementation with vitamin E2.
What does this mean to you?
Apart from yet another reason to control your weight, these findings suggest that vitamin E is good for the liver. The best time to supplement with vitamin E is before the damage occurs because once scarring accumulates to the point of cirrhosis, there is nothing that can be done to prevent liver failure. Nuts and green vegetables are good sources of vitamin E. The highest levels are found in sunflower seeds, almonds and spinach.
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1. Thakur V et al, “Vitamin E and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).” FASEB J. 2013.
2. Hoofnagle JH, et al, “Vitamin E and changes in serum alanine aminotransferase levels in patients with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.” Alimentary and Pharmacology and Therapeutics. 2013.