Most people have a little bit of fat in their liver, but fatty liver disease can be diagnosed when more than 5% of the liver is made up of fat. If the condition isn’t linked to liver damage from heavy drinking, it’s known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and is most often associated with obesity and certain eating habits.
For the current analysis, researchers examined data on 2,588 patients who were participating in 22 clinical trials of various interventions to help them lose weight. Fifteen studies tested behavioral weight loss programs; six tested medications; one tested weight loss surgery.
The trials also looked at whether those interventions would improve biomarkers for NAFLD that can help predict the likelihood of serious complications.
Compared with little or no weight loss support, the interventions that offered the most support were associated with greater weight loss and bigger reductions in biomarkers for NAFLD like elevated liver enzymes in the blood, elevated blood sugar, and reduced sensitivity to the hormone insulin, or insulin resistance.
“It shows clearly that weight loss improves the health of the liver,” said Dimitrios Koutoukidis, a researcher at the University of Oxford in the U.K. and lead author of the study.
“We found some evidence that weight loss improved NAFLD through improvements in the control of blood glucose levels and reductions in insulin resistance, but we need more research to understand the exact mechanisms,” Koutoukidis said by email.
Different approaches to weight loss didn’t appear to impact whether fibrosis, or scarring, in the liver got better or worse.