Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is fast becoming the chief cause of cirrhosis of the liver and the primary reason for liver transplants in the 21st century, having replaced alcohol as the main cause of liver destruction.
Researchers have just published an important study in the journal Alimentary Pharmacology and Therapeutics that identifies the most effective treatment for this serious disease.
The only treatment that is currently prescribed by doctors for NAFLD is a combination of physical exercise and weight loss.
Weight loss of at least seven percent is considered to be the most important endpoint of the treatment.
But a team of Irish scientists wondered about the role of aerobic exercise in the treatment of NAFLD and set out to examine it.
Their study subjects, some of whom had been diagnosed with NAFLD, followed a 12-week aerobic exercise program.
The researchers tested their livers through biopsies before commencing this program, after its completion, and again at 12 and 52 weeks after completion.
The exercise program reduced liver fibrosis (scarring) and hepatocyte ballooning (liver cell death) by one category in 58 and 67 percent of subjects, respectively.
The intervention group was also fitter by the end of the aerobic exercise program, measured by a standard maximal oxygen consumption test.
The fittest participants showed the largest improvement in their liver health.
The crux of the study is that none of their participants actually managed to lose seven percent of their body weight, let alone the 10 percent that some specialists demand.
Moreover, the improvements were larger than those seen in NAFLD patients in previous studies that had lost this amount of body weight.
Therefore, it seems as if aerobic exercise is a better treatment for NAFLD than weight loss is.