(Naturalhealth365) Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is reaching epidemic proportions in the United States – with some experts putting the incidence at 25 percent of the population. Untreated NAFLD can progress to a more serious condition known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH – which causes liver inflammation, scarring, cirrhosis, liver failure and even (in the end) liver cancer. Thankfully, recent research has showcased the importance of “friendly” gut bacteria to liver health and illustrated the ability of probiotics – live microorganisms that support beneficial bacteria – to “put the brakes on” liver disease.
Not only do probiotics ease fatty liver disease, but one popular probiotic ingredient even protects against liver damage caused by medications. To learn more about the beneficial effects of probiotics – and to discover how to put them to work for you – keep reading.
Probiotics can help to protect the liver against oxidative stress
In a recent study conducted by researchers at Emory University, the team found that supplementation with Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG – a common probiotic strain used in over-the-counter probiotic preparations – helped reduce liver damage from acetaminophen.
Acetaminophen, marketed under the brand name Tylenol, also appears in dozens of prescription and non-prescription drugs. High doses of acetaminophen deplete the body’s stores of glutathione – an essential antioxidant – and cause severe oxidative stress.
In fact, acetaminophen overdose is the number one cause of acute liver failure in the United States.
Although the primary treatment for acetaminophen overdose is the amino acid n-acetyl cysteine, Lactobacillus rhamnosus GG – or LGG – appears to also have the ability to preserve and protect the liver.
To conduct the study, researchers gave mice LGG for two weeks, then administered a high dose of acetaminophen. The team found that the supplemented mice experienced significantly less liver damage than the control group.
The team concluded that the LGG improved the antioxidant response of the liver by affecting a protein called nrF2, which in turn regulates the expression of genes that combat free radicals.
“This study provides evidence that the effects of probiotics extend beyond the gastrointestinal tract,” the researchers added.
The study built upon earlier animal research supporting LGG’s ability to help treat NAFLD. Naturally, researchers called for clinical studies to examine the effects of LGG on NAFLD in humans.
Beneficial gut bacteria offer a surprising range of health benefits
The gut microbiome – the community of bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract – is populated by over 1,000 different species of both “friendly” and pathogenic bacteria. (Probiotics, live microorganisms that support the body’s own stores of beneficial bacteria, help to maintain a healthy microbiome balance).
“Friendly” bacteria in the gut are essential for digesting fiber – which helps to prevent weight gain, diabetes, heart disease and cancer. In addition, they promote the formation of desirable HDL cholesterol help to control blood sugar levels and even affect brain function and mood.
And, with 70 to 80 percent of the immune system located in the digestive tract, it isn’t surprising that the gut microbiome helps to modulate the immune system.
Bifidobacteria and Lactobacilli strains of bacteria are particularly helpful for promoting proper digestion, helping to prevent “leaky gut” and reducing symptoms of inflammatory bowel disease.
Study reveals: Byproducts of beneficial bacteria can fight inflammation due to NAFLD
In a study conducted by researchers at Tufts University and published in Cell Reports, the team found that certain metabolites of beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract can reduce the inflammatory response and ease the severity of NAFLD. (Metabolites occur when gut bacteria break down the fiber found in food – a process which accounts for many of their beneficial effects).
However, when the balance of friendly to harmful bacteria is disrupted, a state known as dysbiosis, susceptibility to liver disease is increased.
To conduct the study, researchers fed mice a high-fat diet and found that the balance of their intestinal microbiota changed significantly within eight weeks.
The high-fat diet increased levels of free fatty acids in the liver, large intestine and blood, which in turn spurred the production of pro-inflammatory molecules (cytokines) such as tnf-alpha and interleukin.
The researchers also found that particular tryptophan metabolites – such as indole-3 acetate, or I3A, and tryptamine, or TA – were depleted.
By inhibiting the infiltration of cytokine-producing macrophages into the liver, these metabolites help to reduce levels of pro-inflammatory molecules (cytokines). Now that researchers have learned of the anti-inflammatory qualities of bacterial metabolites, they plan to explore their potential as an intervention for NAFLD.
How can I maintain a healthy gut microbiome?
Eating fermented foods is an excellent way to nourish and support beneficial bacteria in the intestinal tract. Yogurt with active cultures, sauerkraut, miso soup, pickles, kombucha (a fermented tea) and kimchi (pickled cabbage) are all good choices.
In addition, eating high-fiber prebiotic foods – such as fruits and vegetables, chia seeds and flax seeds – can help provide fuel for friendly bacteria.
Remember: Consuming GMO foods can play havoc with gut microbiota. An organic diet is the way to go. Eating white sugar, smoking cigarettes and the use of antibiotics can also destroy beneficial bacteria.
If you choose to take probiotics as a supplement, select a high-quality product from a reputable company – and look for a high CFU (colony forming units) count in the range of 15 billion to 100 billion.
Most experts recommend a product with 10 to 30 different probiotic strains. In addition to Lactobacillis rhamnosus, look for proven beneficial strains such as Bifidobacterium bifidum, Lactobacillus casei and Bacillus subtilis.
As recent studies show, maintaining a healthy gut microbiome not only promotes overall health, well-being and even happiness, but is one of the first lines of defense against the threat of liver disease. The therapeutic value of probiotics should not be overlooked.
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