Another Reason to Consume Probiotics—It May Prevent Fatty Liver Disease

Wednesday Sep 3 | BY |
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Sauerkraut is a good source of healthy probiotics—which may protect your liver.

It used to be that only alcoholics had to worry about fatty liver disease. Not anymore.

A 2013 study estimated the prevalence of “non-alcoholic” liver disease to be 19 percent, or 28.8 million adults—nearly one-fifth of us.

According to a 2012 report, fatal cases of liver disease are rising, with a 25 percent increase in deaths from the condition in less than a decade. Alcohol causes only a third of those cases.

A recent study gives us some good news in the midst of the bad—probiotics may help. The same “good” bugs that you enjoy in your yogurt, sauerkraut, and kefir that promote smooth digestion and boost the immune system may also help diminish fat accumulation in the liver.

Time to add fermented foods to the list of items that are good for the liver!

What is Fatty Liver Disease?

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a condition in which the liver accumulates too much fat. This fat then causes inflammation and scarring in the organ itself, which can, over time, lead to liver failure.

The increase in this disease is in direct relation to our national obesity epidemic. As people gain weight, the liver suffers. The Cleveland Clinic also notes that it’s strongly associated with obesity and insulin resistance, and is considered to be part of “metabolic syndrome,” which is a combination of factors that raises risk for heart disease and diabetes.

Having a fatty liver, by itself, however, isn’t always dangerous. A number of people have fat in the liver and experience no problems. The key is whether or not that fat starts to cause inflammation.

When a Fatty Liver Turns Dangerous

The Mayo Clinic explains that there are basically three stages of NAFLD:

  1. Nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD): There’s fat buildup in the liver. This isn’t normal, but may not be harmful.
  2. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH): For some reason (doctors don’t know why yet), the fat buildup causes inflammation in the liver. This can affect its ability to carry out its daily tasks, and may lead to scarring of the liver (called “cirrhosis”).
  3. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease-associated cirrhosis: At this point, the inflammation has caused scarring. Eventually the scarring becomes so bad that the liver no longer functions, and the patient experiences liver failure. This condition is now one of the leading reasons people go through liver transplants in the U.S.

What separates those who have fatty livers and are fine and those who suffer inflammation and scarring? That’s what scientists are still trying to figure out. The Cleveland Clinic suggests that the following may be factors in triggering inflammation:

  • Insulin resistance
  • Oxidative stress (including antioxidant deficiencies, and an imbalance of intestinal bacteria)

Once the liver starts to suffer from scarring, survival is greatly threatened, so keeping that fat happy and harmless is a major focus of today’s research.

That’s where this latest study comes in.

Researchers Link Probiotics to Less Fat in the Liver

Researchers from the University of Granada worked with three strains of probiotics, including:

  1. Lactobacillus paracasei
  2. Bifidobacterium breve
  3. Lactobacillus rhamnosus

For 30 days, they gave these strains to rats programmed to develop obesity. Over the same time period, they gave another group of obese rats a placebo. Results showed that those fed the probiotics accumulated significantly lower levels of fat in the liver as those fed the placebo.

Researchers noted the probiotics also helped lower proinflammatory molecules in the blood of rats—providing additional protection against inflammation for the liver.

Other Studies Show Probiotics Helpful

This isn’t the only study to show probiotics may be helpful against NAFLD.

  • 2014—benefits in children: Researchers gave obese children with diagnosed NAFLD either a mixture of eight probiotic strains, or a placebo, once a day for four months. At the beginning of the study, 55 percent of the probiotic-treated children had moderate NAFLD, and 45 percent had severe cases. In the placebo group, 64 percent had moderate and 36 percent had severe cases. At the end of the study, those receiving the probiotic treatment had the following probabilities of fatty liver: none (21%), light (70%), moderate (9%), severe (0%). In contrast, those on the placebo had the following probabilities: none (0%), light (7%), moderate (76%), and severe (17%).
  • 2014 meta-analysis: An analysis of studies on the effects of probiotics in NAFLD patients found that probiotics are beneficial, reducing inflammatory factors and levels of insulin resistance, and improving liver health.
  • 2013 human study: Researchers gave patients with NASH either probiotics or usual care for six months. Results showed that triglycerides in the liver decreased by 7 percent in the probiotic group, but remained the same in the usual care group.
  • 2013 study review: Researchers looked at studies published on probiotics and fatty liver disease so far. They concluded that the future of a potential treatment looks promising: “Various experimental studies and clinical trials revealed promising effects of probiotics in improving NAFLD.”
Are There Symptoms of NAFLD?

NAFLD is one of those “silent” diseases that doesn’t produce symptoms until much of the damage has already done. Usually people find out only when they go through laboratory tests for other reasons—and those tests show elevated liver enzyme levels.

As the disease progresses, there are some symptoms that may show up:

  • general feeling of malaise
  • fatigue
  • abdominal discomfort (in the upper right area)

There are risk factors, however. If you have one or more of these you may want to keep an eye on your liver—and stock up on probiotics!

  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome
  • High levels of cholesterol or triglycerides
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)
Good Sources of Probiotics
  • Yogurt
  • Kefir
  • Sauerkraut
  • Kimchi
  • Miso
  • Kombucha tea
  • Microalgae
  • Tempeh
  • Poi

What do you think of this finding? Will you add more probiotics to your daily diet?

* * *

Lazo M., et al., “Prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in the United States: the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1994,” Am J Epidemiol, July 1, 2013; 178(1):38-45,

“Liver disease deaths ‘up by 25%,’” NHS, March 22, 2012,

Julio Plaza-Diaz, et al., “Effects of Lactobacillus paracasei CNCN I-4034, Bifidobacterium breve CNCM I-4035 and Lactobacillus rhamnosus CNCM I-4036 on Hepatic Steatosis in Zucker Rats,” PLoS One, May 22, 2014,

A. Alisi, et al., “Randomised clinical trial: the beneficial effects of VSL#3 in obese children with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis,” Alimentary Pharmacology & Therapeutics, June 2014; 29(11):1276-1285,;jsessionid=1A27978E57A235164BDE90BF523794EF.f02t01.

Roya Kelishadi, et al., “Probiotics as a Novel Treatment for Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease; A Systematic Review on the Current Evidences,” Hepatitis Monthly, April 2013; 13(4):e7233,

Maddur H, et al., “More evidence that probiotics may have a role in treating fatty liver disease,” Am J Clin Nutr, March 2014; 99(3):425-6,

Vincent Wai-Sun Wong, et al., “Treatment of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis with probiotics. A proof-of-concept study,” Annals of Hepatology, March-April 2013; 12(2):256-262.

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story

Colleen M. Story, a northwest-based writer, editor, and ghostwriter, has been creating non-fiction materials for individuals, corporations, and commercial magazines for over 17 years. She specializes in the health and wellness field, where she writes and ghostwrites books, e-books, blogs, magazine articles, and more.

Colleen is the founder of Writing and Wellness. Her fantasy novel, “Rise of the Sidenah,” was released with Jupiter Gardens Press in September 2015. Her literary novel, “Loreena’s Gift,” is forthcoming in spring 2016 from Dzanc Books. She lives in Idaho.

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