People who eat lots of meat – even if it is just chicken, turkey and lean steak – are more at risk of liver disease, research suggests.
A study found those whose main source of protein comes from animal products are 54 per cent more likely to develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) than those who eat a more plant-based diet.
Red meat in particular is a high source of saturated fat, which may accumulate in the liver and eventually cause the organ to fail. Experts hope the study will encourage people to adopt a Mediterranean diet rich in fish, whole grains and vegetables.
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The research was carried out by the Erasmus MC University Medical Centre in Rotterdam and led by Dr Sarwa Darwish Murad, from the department of gastroenterology and hepatology.
NAFLD describes a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver that has not been triggered by alcohol. A healthy liver should have next to no fat, with even just small amounts being defined as the early stages of NAFLD.
Around one in three people in the UK have the early stages of NAFLD, which is more common in those who are overweight or obese, NHS statistics reveal. And the condition affects 15-to-20 per cent of Americans to some extent, according to the Cayuga Medical Center in Ithaca, New York.
Although not particularly serious in its initial stages, NAFLD can lead to severe liver damage, including scarring – known as cirrhosis – which can cause deadly liver failure.
To determine how food can influence a person’s NAFLD risk, the researchers examined the dietary questionnaires and liver fat scans of 3,882 adults with an average age of 70.
None of the participants were taking steatogenic drugs or had viral hepatitis, both of which can cause fat to accumulate in the liver. Some 34 per cent (1,337) of them had NAFLD, of which 1,205 were overweight.
Results – published in the journal Gut – revealed those who were overweight and ate the most animal protein were 54 per cent more likely to have NAFLD than those who consumed the least animal protein. source