Following the Mediterranean diet could prevent the onset of diseases such as the widespread nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) while also mitigating symptoms for NAFLD patients, new research has found.
NAFLD includes a series of pathologic manifestations linked to the build-up of fat in the liver, known as steatosis.
Adopting the Mediterranean diet, even if for just one year, can improve non-alcoholic fatty liver condition and gut microbiota.
Its progression over time may cause liver damage, including cirrhosis and fibrosis. It can also increase the risk of contracting or worsening chronic illnesses such as kidney disease, diabetes and high blood pressure.
According to some research, 32 percent of all adults worldwide suffer from NAFLD, which is often associated with being overweight or obese. In the United States alone, research from the American Liver Foundation, a non-profit, estimates that up to 100 million Americans suffer from NAFLD.See Also:Health News
“Today, there is no medication that can cure NAFLD. All an individual can do is to change lifestyle to reduce the chances of a progression of such a condition,” Isabel Moreno-Indias, co-author of the study and researcher at the Biomedical Research Institute of Málaga, in Spain, told Olive Oil Times.
“Weight loss, exercise and adopting the Mediterranean diet are crucial,” she added.
Published by Gut Microbes, the study focused on 297 metabolic syndrome patients older than 60 and obese whose health conditions were monitored at baseline.
After one year of adopting and adhering to the Mediterranean diet, researchers re-evaluated the patients’ conditions and divided them into three groups.
“Our research team wanted to focus on the Mediterranean diet intervention,” Moreno-Indias said. “Each group was therefore formed depending on the changes that occurred to the patients during that year.”
Scientists adopted two indices commonly used in research to estimate the Mediterranean diet’s impact: the Hepatic Steatosis Index (HSI) and the Fibrosis−4 score (FIB−4). Both were used to assess the changing degree of each patient’s liver condition.
The study’s authors found that the more strictly the Mediterranean Diet was followed by patients, the more its beneficial impacts were, including substantial improvements in the gut microbiota.
The gut microbiota is the complex population of billions of microorganisms in the human gastrointestinal tract. The bacteria are crucial in maintaining a healthy immune system and metabolic functions.
The composition of the gut microbiota varies from individual to individual, and it is highly dependent on diet. Altered compositions of the gut bacterial population have been repeatedly associated with a vast array of infections and inflammatory diseases.
In the study, the changes monitored by the researchers included a reduction of inflammation-associated bacteria, while those responsible for healthy fatty acids production increased. The results imply improved gut health and a decline in the risk of developing several chronic illnesses.
“We found a relation between biochemical changes related to NAFLD and gut microbiota,” Moreno-Indias said.
Researchers found that patients who benefited more by adopting the Mediterranean diet, who saw their NAFLD markers improve significantly, also showed the highest presence of beneficial gut bacteria.
“These results tell us that lifestyle interventions such as adopting the Mediterranean diet might modulate the gut microbiota and therefore impact metabolic syndrome and liver health,” Moreno-Indias said.
Gut microbiota could also become crucial for NAFLD diagnosis. Francisco Tinahones, a professor of medicine at the University of Málaga and co-author of the study, said NAFLD “is an asymptomatic disease in its early stages, and the lack of non-invasive markers means that when it is diagnosed, it is in an advanced situation, so new biomarkers are necessary for its early detection, and the intestinal microbiota could help.”
While the research shows the significant role of the Mediterranean diet in cultivating a healthy gut microbiome, the researchers warned that more remains to be assessed.
“We need to consider that our population sample was very particular and specific, as they were individuals who are not young and who suffer from specific conditions such as obesity and metabolic syndrome,” Moreno-Indias said. “Twenty percent of them suffer from diabetes.”
“What we found is that in this specific sample of the population, adopting the Mediterranean diet, even if for just one year, can improve NAFLD condition and gut microbiota,” she added.
“Having said that, my opinion is that the results we verified on that specific population sample tell us even more,” Moreno-Indias continued. “They tell us that for all segments of the population who do not have NAFLD, adhering to the Mediterranean diet might exert a crucial effect in preventing its onset.”
However, the researcher pointed out that adopting the Mediterranean diet means more than following a specific eating pattern.
“The Mediterranean diet is more than a diet. It is a lifestyle, including social eating and exercise,” she said. “In this context, extra virgin olive oil is the key, as olive oil is the main fat and lipid source of the Mediterranean diet, with all its beneficial characteristics.”
“Without olive oil, there would not be a Mediterranean diet in the first place,” Moreno-Indias added. “In our protocol, the Mediterranean diet is characterized by the presence of olive oil.”
Previous research hinted at the impact of the antioxidants of extra virgin olive oil on NAFLD. It is believed they can play a crucial role in the well-being of NAFLD patients.