For many of us, probiotics have become a staple in our efforts to achieve good gut health and a balanced microbiome. We’ve woken up to the potential benefits of consuming probiotics regularly, both for our guts and overall health. But here’s something you probably didn’t realize: Probiotics may help you fight the effects of fatty liver disease.
If you’re worried about your risk for fatty liver disease or your liver’s overall health, probiotics may be one potential-packed nutritional tool. Find out just how they may impact – and benefit – your liver.
Your gut and your liver are closely linked
Increasingly, researchers are finding out more about the connections between your gut and the rest of your body. They’ve honed in on the gut-brain axis, or the nerve link that connects what’s happening in your gut to brain signals like hunger and satiety. Now, it’s becoming clear that there’s also a link between the gut and the liver – and the gut-liver axis seems to be pretty important to your liver’s health.
The gut-liver axis is the connection or interactions between your gut – and its microflora – and your liver. And this can affect your liver’s health. That link is particularly key for those who have liver damage. The gut may potentially play a role in regulating that damage, and with the right probiotics, it may be able to contribute more protective organisms to help keep your liver in good shape.
So, recent studies have suggested that when you consume probiotics, you may have an impact on your gut that directly affects your liver. And what your gut does to put those probiotics to work may pay off. As a 2010 article published in World Journal of Gastroenterology explains, probiotics may help prevent the production and absorption of lipopolysaccharides in your gut, which can reduce inflammation or an inflammatory response. Probiotics may also alter the way hepatic fat – or the fat that can build up in the liver – is metabolized.
Probiotics may potentially prevent fatty liver disease
If you’re worried about fatty liver disease, probiotics may be an ally. There are quite a few factors that may play a role in your risk for and the development of fatty liver disease – including obesity, inflammation, oxidative stress and a buildup of fat in the liver itself. Probiotics, however, just may be able to help combat some of these disease-causing factors and potentially keep you from developing it altogether.
Scientific research suggests that a disrupted or weakened intestinal barrier may enhance the oxidative stress, inflammation and potential liver-damaging enzymes associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Additionally, small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO), which has been associated with obesity, may exacerbate the causes of fatty liver disease and the disease itself.
How might you fix intestinal barrier issues and bacterial overgrowth? You can try probiotics.
There is some evidence that you may be able to use probiotics to alter your gut microflora, introducing more “good” bacteria to create a better balance and help resolve any internal bacteria problems. In some studies, taking probiotics was found to improve intestinal function and decrease the presence of certain “bad” bacteria in the gut. And when it comes to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, probiotics may have the potential to alter the inflammatory effects of bacterial overgrowth, soothing one key contributing factor of the condition.
Prebiotics may have a similar positive impact. While probiotics contain live organisms, usually specific strains of bacteria, prebiotics are plant fibers that act like fertilizer for growing healthy gut bacteria. One research study proposed that a prebiotic treatment (simply taking prebiotics) may potentially trigger several mechanisms that may help counteract some of the negative effects of a high-fat diet, like fat deposits in the liver, inflammation and a weak intestinal barrier. This means that probiotics and prebiotics just may be able to help counter the problems that can lead to NAFLD.
Probiotics may reduce liver inflammation
Fatty liver disease is closely tied to inflammation. The condition can lead to increased production of pro-inflammatory cytokines, or the compounds that cause inflammation. And as you just learned, probiotics may be able to reduce that inflammation and soothe your liver.
Even if you aren’t currently diagnosed with fatty liver disease, you can try probiotics. They may help to keep liver inflammation to a minimum. Some research suggests that probiotic treatments may directly decrease the amount of pro-inflammatory cytokines present in your liver. One study points specifically to the probiotic blend VSL#3, which may have the potential to help improve liver function and alter liver fatty acid content.
And even more research suggests that probiotics may be particularly great for inflammation in the liver. Another study found that the same VSL#3 probiotic helped to counteract some of the effects of a high-fat diet in the mice. In the study, taking this probiotic had a positive impact on liver fat, but it was also thought to have stimulated specific cells that had a balancing effect on pro- and anti-inflammatory cytokines. The amount of inflammation and inflammation-related symptoms improved thanks to the probiotics.
While more human research is needed, these research efforts suggest that there may be some positive potential in probiotics. The inflammation that can accompany fatty liver disease and other health concerns just may be able to be reduced.
Probiotics might even help you lose weight
Your gut plays an important role in your weight. It’s a factor in determining how easy it is to lose weight, and it even affects your hunger levels. But when it comes to your liver health, probiotics may also help you lose weight.
Probiotics aren’t exactly a weight loss aid. However, if you happen to be obese and have fatty liver disease – specifically, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease – taking probiotics may be able to help you shed the extra weight that’s impacting your liver health. In a study published in Nature, researchers examined the effect of probiotics on both abdominal fat and fat in the liver. The obese patients who were given a probiotic mixture of six different bacterial species for 12 weeks saw their total body fat and weight decrease.
While the study’s probiotic blend helped participants lose weight and liver fat, it was no clear cure. However, it did suggest that there may be some potential for probiotics to support or help you in your efforts to lose extra weight for your liver’s health. Taking probiotics regularly just may be able to help you target two important factors that can contribute to or cause fatty liver disease.
Which strains of probiotics should you take for fatty liver disease?
If you’re ready to improve your liver health while working on your gut (from both the inside and the outside), probiotics may be a helpful nutrient to add into your diet.
But which probiotics are the best if you’re hoping to take advantage of all of the possible fatty liver benefits? The research studies mentioned above tested the effects of quite a few different strains. The Nature study that used a mix of multiple probiotics, specifically Lactobacillus acidophilus, L. rhamnosus, L. paracasei, Pediococcus pentosaceus, Bifidobacterium lactis, and B. breve. Other studies also used L. rhamnosus, which is a consistent performer in fatty liver research and a common probiotic – so it’s one to put on your list.
And you can’t forget about prebiotics. While most of the research conducted so far in connection to fatty liver disease does focus on probiotics, one study did highlight some potential benefits of prebiotics. In that study, oligofructose was the chosen prebiotic, so it’s one you might want to consider for your liver health as well.
Wondering where to get started as you begin taking probiotics or prebiotics for your liver’s health? We’ve got a wealth of information that’ll guide you in the right direction: