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Fast food damages the liver

18th February 2008

A diet high in saturated fats and animal protein, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, can harm the liver in a matter of weeks, Swedish research has shown.


A study published in the journal Gut selected 18 thin and healthy volunteers and fed them on a diet of fast food, aiming for an increase in body weight of between 5 and 15% by doubling their calorific intake over a four-week period.

In just four weeks, the volunteers on the fast food diet had gained an average of 14.3 pounds (6.5 kg).

Both they and a control group had their liver enzymes tested at the end of the study.

The fast food eaters, who were asked to consume at least two fast-food meals a day for the study, showed sharp increases in the enzyme alanine aminotransferase (ALT) after just one week, with levels of the enzyme increasing by a factor of four over the four-week period.

The volunteers were also controlled for low reported levels of alcohol intake.

The control group, which was matched for age and sex, ate and exercised normally.

Researchers at the University Hospital of Linkoping checked liver enzyme and fat levels by analysing blood samples both before the fast food group began their new diet, and at regular intervals throughout the four-week study period.

Changes in ALT and in hepatic triglyceride content (HTGC) were used to indicate liver damage.

Abnormally high ALT levels are frequently seen in people who consume a lot of alcohol or who have been infected with the hepatitis C virus. HTGC measures fatty acid levels in the liver; too much fat in the liver leads to a condition called fatty liver disease.

At the end of the four-week period, ALT levels rose to damaging proportions in the fast-food group, while no changes were seen in the comparison group.

Researchers said the increases in ALT levels were correlated with weight gain and increased intake of sugar and other carbohydrates.

Participants had an average age of 26. Both groups consisted of 12 men and six women.

There was a significant rise in liver cell fat in all fast food eaters, with one volunteer developing fatty liver disease.

High fat content of liver cells is associated with insulin resistance, which in turn is associated with the metabolic syndrome.

Insulin resistance syndrome is linked to an increased risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

"Hyper-alimentation per se can induce profound ALT elevations in less than four weeks," the report concluded.

"Our study clearly shows that in the evaluation of subjects with elevated ALT the medical history should include not only questions about alcohol intake but also explore whether recent excessive food intake has occurred."

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Article Information

Title: Fast food damages the liver
Author: Luisetta Mudie
Article Id: 5650
Date Added: 18th Feb 2008


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