Gut Microbes and Fatty Liver Disease

A study in the journal Nature confirms that bad gut microbes are involved in the causes and progress of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), a dangerous complication of obesity. The same diet that causes obesity causes disruptions in the normal healthy ecology of microbes in the human gut, causing pathogenic bacteria to proliferate. These harmful bacteria have been linked to NAFLD, but now the mechanisms of the disease are becoming clear.

gut microbes

The harmful bacteria produce molecules called endotoxins. These are actually structural parts of the bacterial wall, made of carbohydrate and fat. These toxins enter the bloodstream and are sent to the liver, where they cause inflammation.

Chronic inflammation is the cause of many different problems in the body, such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s Disease, arthritis, atherosclerosis, heart disease, and stroke. Obesity itself also causes chronic inflammation, because fatty tissue is one of the places where inflammatory immune cells live, and having dangerous amounts of fatty tissue throws the immune system towards being always on, as if we were fighting an infection.

In the case of gut dysbiosis (the accumulation of harmful gut microbes), we actually are fighting an infection. By changing the diet towards one of lower carbohydrate and fat, and much higher fiber along with protein, we can feed the good bacteria in the gut at the expense of the bad bacteria, and restore a healthy balance. Not only will this reduce the likelihood of fatty liver disease, but it will also reduce fatty tissue, and the inflammation it causes.

As a further benefit, healthy gut bacteria can actually help you keep the weight off. Dysbiosis is both a contributing cause and an effect of obesity, in a kind of vicious cycle. Getting rid of one helps to get rid of the other. When you reach for a snack, try an apple or a carrot instead of the cookies or cupcake. Your gut will thank you for it.

Cancer Risk of Obesity

Obesity is a cancer risk that rivals smoking as a preventable leading risk factor for cancer death. While cancer is assisted by the hyper-nutrition, gut microbe disturbance, cholesterol, and diabetes that accompany obesity, it is particularly aided by the fifth consequence of being overweight: chronic inflammation.


Cancer risk

Chronic inflammation increases cancer risk both in the initiation of the disease, and the progression of the disease, by cultivating an environment that encourages the mutations in cells that lead to cancer. The changes inflammation brings to tissues make them better places for malignant cells to live and grow.

Fat is not just an energy storage tissue. It is also where many inflammatory immune cells live. The more fat we have, the more immune cells there are, pouring out inflammatory molecules that change tissues and increase cancer risk.

A recent study in the journal Science shows that some cancers are actually addicted to obesity, requiring the hyper-nutrition and inflammatory molecules to survive. Breast cancer is promoted by blood vessel growth factors produced by fat cells. Pancreatic cancer is associated with interleukin-1-beta, a immune system suppressor molecule produced by fat cells. Fat cells secrete molecules that allow prostate cancer cells to invade surrounding tissue.

Fat cells also produce estrogen, which can make estrogen sensitive cancers grow faster. They also produces insulin and other growth factors that affect all tissues.

Screening for breast cancer is hindered by surrounding fatty tissue, but worse than that, fat cells produce growth factors that promote metastasis (the spreading of cancer to other tissues such as the lungs). High cholesterol levels associated with obesity also cause breast cancer cells to metastasize. Metastasis is what causes most breast cancer deaths.

Losing weight can help to prevent cancer, and can help prevent existing cancer from spreading. Fasting reduces immune suppression, helping the immune system fight off cancer. Exercise activates natural killer cells in the immune system that seek out and destroy cancer cells.

Childhood Obesity Projected Forward

The New England Journal of Medicine published an childhood obesity article today describing a study that projects that between 55 to 60 percent of today’s children will be obese by the time they reach 35 years of age.

childhood obesity at MacDonalds

U.S. Adult obesity rates currently range from about 22 percent in Colorado to almost 38 percent in Louisiana. The projection is thus double the current obesity rate (assuming nothing is done to prevent it).

One child in 11 is currently obese in the U.S. (ages 2 through 5). Childhood obesity is the main risk factor for adult obesity (no surprise there) but obesity in childhood is also a major risk factor for adult depression.

We can’t blame genes for childhood obesity — genes haven’t changed much since the 1960s, when childhood obesity was almost unheard-of. And we can hardly blame a two year old for poor life choices.

We can, however, look at sugar consumption, between-meal snacking, juice and sugared beverage consumption, seed oil consumption, and high-carbohydrate meals, all of which have ballooned since the sixties. Poverty is also a major contributor — obesity, particularly childhood obesity, is disproportionately represented in low income communities. These communities have less access to fresh vegetables, and what they do have access to is subsidized high-carbohydrate, low fiber products of industrialized agriculture and processed food companies.

Parents often give children fruit juices in bottles or juice boxes to keep them busy, keep them from crying, or because they think juice is healthy. But fruit juice has had most of the healthy fiber removed, leaving little but sugar water and a bit of flavoring. Worse, many fruit drinks have added sugar. Both natural and added sugar creates addiction to sugar, which makes the child cry or whine when it is not present, causing the parent to give in to the addiction.

Try plain water. You can add a bit of lemon or other fruit to add a touch of flavor, without all the sugar.