Western food may lead to liver disease, research finds

Hannah Haney

A recent study from of Oregon State University has provided new information revealing that liver damage caused by the “Western diet” is irreversible. Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) continues to be a rapidly growing problem in the United States, According to the American Liver foundation, 10 percent of Americans have NAFLD or some other form of liver disease. Since diet, body weight and liver health are closely related, researchers at OSU conducted a study to find out if a healthy diet could reverse the damage done by a poor diet.

“Ideally, no one would ever get the disease,” said Kelli Lytle, lead author on the study.

Deteriorating liver health in America can be attributed to the high amounts of fat, cholesterol and sugar consumed every day.

For those suffering from NAFLD — which causes inflammation and eventual scarring of the liver — recovery is imperative. 15,000 people die from chronic liver disease each year.

The researchers took two groups of laboratory mice and fed them a ‘Western diet’ for several weeks, causing them to develop symptoms associated with NAFLD. The groups of mice were then switched to healthier diets where one group was fed lower fat, lower cholesterol, and lower sugar diet. And second group was fed a similar diet, except sugar levels were kept high.

At the conclusion of the study, the livers of the mice showed reduced symptoms, especially for the low-sugar group. However, their livers were still not completely healthy. The results indicated that yes, recovery is possible through dietary improvement — but only to a certain extent.

“We could reverse most of (the damage), but not all of it,” Lytle reported.

Her research shows the importance of taking preventative measures to insure the health of the liver. According to Lytle, it is never too early to start protecting your liver either, as people of all ages suffer from liver disease.

Students living on-campus are provided with many healthy meal and snack options by University Housing and Dining Services (UHDS). Grain bowls, smoothies, open salad bars and vegetarian-friendly foods can be found at each dining center. UHDS employee Kaitlyn Goertzen said that her managers make a conscious effort to make these wholesome foods as convenient as possible.

“My manager puts a basket of fruit at the register so that people will see it when they check out, and then they might feel guilty and choose that healthier option,” Goertzen said.  

Freshman nutrition major Amanda Dardis is aware of liver disease and other illnesses that are caused by high fat, high sugar foods. To avoid this, Dardis has go-to meals that she knows are nutritious and satisfying.

“Every day I eat soup and salad from West Dining Hall for either lunch or dinner,” Dardis said. “I honestly think it’s easier to find healthy food here than at home.”

Students living off-campus and on a tighter food budget can still eat proactively. Lytle suggests that students who want to be healthy should start eliminating foods commonly known to be bad for their health.

“It’s not news to people that soda isn’t great for them,” Lytle said.

Simple substitutions in your daily intake is a great start in breaking free of the ‘Western diet’. According to Lytle’s research, as NAFLD becomes a more urgent issue in our country, prevention through a healthy diet is key to combatting liver disease.

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