PHYTOCHEMICALS and vitamin D may be the key to protecting the liver against inflammation triggered by fat accumulation during menopause, possibly preventing women worldwide from developing the potentially life-threatening and currently untreatable condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is also increasingly common in people who consume little to no alcohol, especially the overweight and obese, including adolescents and children.
In an effort to lose the extra weight gained during menopause, women may turn to weight-loss supplements that stimulate fat mobilisation in the body. This results in fat accumulation in the liver, which, over time, can lead to inflammation and scarring. “Women going through menopause have an increased tendency to store fat in their livers,” said the study’s lead author Dr Colette Miller, Department of Foods and Human Nutrition, College of Family and Consumer Sciences, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA. “They also have increases in visceral fat—the fat around their organs—where inflammation also occurs.”
“There might be nothing you can do about the fat being shuttled to the liver, but if you can prevent the fat from being toxic or from causing disease, then that might be the best way of treating this,” said Dr Miller.
Plant chemicals such as resveratrol, genistein, and quercetin, which are found in grapes, soybeans, and apple peels and onions, respectively, have proved to be successful in blocking the accumulation of fat in the liver in post-menopausal animals by triggering the bursting and emptying of fat cells. It is extremely difficult to draw a sufficient level of these compounds via food or supplements to derive any benefit, according to Dr Miller, but together they produce a synergistic effect that “cuts the doses you need”; the result in animal studies was a reduction in visceral fat layers rather than overall weight loss.
“We were able to demonstrate that our phytochemical treatment is shuttling the fat away from the fat tissue to be burned or stored elsewhere,” said Dr Miller. “Ultimately what we saw was that there was no damage in the liver being caused by this increased fat associated with menopause.”