A team of researchers from the School of Life Course Sciences, in collaboration with the Nencki Institute, in Warsaw, Poland, have identified a novel step in the pathway to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). They found that a high fat diet can cause the mitochondria, the power generators of cells, to not function properly, cause the body to lose energy production and create inflammation in the liver.
In a paper recently published in Cells, the teams evaluated the impact of diet on developing a fatty liver, the number of liver mitochondria and specific liver proteins in mice. The team in Poland fed mice with a high-fat only diet and a high-fat high-sugar ‘Western Diet’ for 16 weeks and the team led by Dr Afshan Malik measured the number of mitochondria and their function.
They found that both the high-fat only and western diets resulted in a fatty liver and significant damage to the mitochondria in the liver. This damage causes the liver to be unable to carry out many functions effectively including the metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates, storage of glycogen, and blood detoxification.
We know that eating a high fat diet alone or in combination with high sugar causes fat to accumulate in the liver. The accumulated fat damages the liver over time and can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This can progress to a more serious form of liver disease, cirrhosis and in some cases liver carcinoma (cancer of the liver).– Lead author, Dr Afshan Malik, Reader in Diabetes and Mitochondrial Biology
NAFLD is an increasingly prevalent and underdiagnosed disease, which is estimated to affect a staggering 25% of the population. NAFLD is strongly associated with diabetes, obesity, and metabolic syndrome and is believed to be caused by diet related mechanisms that lead to the accumulation of hepatic fat.
“We are very excited that we have been able to show the impact of bad diet in such a short time on the liver. By researching the cellular and molecular pathways involved in this disease we hope to be able to inform the development of more effective diagnostic and therapeutic strategies” said Dr Malik.
With the increasing worldwide prevalence of NAFLD, there is a strong clinical and economic need to identify biomarkers before irreversible organ damage occurs and to understand the early mechanisms in order to design preventative therapeutic strategies.
This research was helped by the mtfoiegras project funded by the European Union .