Excessive fat burning causes “stress” and inflammation in fatty livers

Fatty liver is the most common liver disease in Western societies. Fatty liver is not just caused by excessive alcohol consumption but rather by overweight and type 2 diabetes. The non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD) is the most frequent cause of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer in the U.S.

In this study the function of the mitochondria, the cell’s power stations, in the liver was studied directly for the first time in healthy persons and patients. Researchers from the German Diabetes Center (DDZ), that is also partner in the German Center for Diabetes Research (DZD), collaborated with scientists from the University Clinic Düsseldorf and St Martinus Hospital in Düsseldorf and discovered that heavily overweight patients with NAFLD show a significantly increased activity of the mitochondria in the liver. During progression of the disease to fatty liver inflammation (NASH) the activity of the mitochondria decreases while oxidative stress increases.

”In early stages of overweight the liver burns the excess fat, resulting in an overload of the liver and progression of the disease. These findings will offer new approaches to prevent and treat non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases“, explains Prof. Roden, Director of the Department of Endocrinology and Diabetology and Director of the DDZ. The results have been published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

Mitochondria and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)

Mitochondria regulate the burning of nutrients in the cell to generate energy. NAFLD includes not only the fatty liver and NASH, where the liver contains more than 5 percent fat, but also non-alcoholic liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Because of only few symptoms in the initial stage NAFLD is often discovered coincidentally or late. Weight reduction only helps in early stages of the disease, for NASH there is currently no effective therapy.

Original publication: Koliaki C, Szendroedi J, Kaul K, Jelenik T, Nowotny P, Jankowiak F, Herder C, Carstensen M, Krausch M, Knoefel WT, Schlensak M, Roden M: Adaptation of Hepatic Mitochondrial Function in Humans with Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Is Lost in Steato-hepatitis. Cell Metabolism, Volume 21, Issue 5, 2015, Pages 739-746

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