Cholesterol may play an important role in the progression of fatty liver to an advanced stage of disease that can lead to permanent liver damage, according to a report in the September, 2006 issue of the journal Cell Metabolism, published by Cell Press. The findings suggest that low-cholesterol diets or cholesterol-lowering drugs might offer a useful therapy for the rising epidemic of fatty liver disease.
The researchers found in mice that accumulation of cholesterol in the liver depletes a powerful antioxidant. The depleted cells are left sensitive to inflammatory factors that cause damage to the liver, they found. The buildup of other forms of fat in the liver, including free fatty acids and triglycerides, were insufficient to spark the events leading to worsening disease.
The findings suggest a key role for the type, as opposed to the amount, of fat in susceptibility to the liver condition known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), said Jos Fernandez-Checa and Carmen Garca-Ruiz of Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientficas (CSIC) in Barcelona.
"To avoid the progression of liver disease, it may be important to eat less and be more conscious of the lipid content of the diet, particularly cholesterol," Fernandez-Checa said. Supplements that boost levels of glutathione--the antioxidant that becomes depleted in animals whose livers accumulate cholesterol--might also be beneficial, he added.
"These data also support a potential therapeutic role of statins in NASH development," he added. Statins are a class of drugs used to lower cholesterol in those at risk of cardiovascular disease.
Characterized by fat accumulation, inflammation, and liver damage, NASH affects 2%5% percent of Americans. An additional 10%20% percent of Americans have fat in their liver, but no inflammation or liver damage. Both conditions are becoming more prevalent, possibly due to the rise of obesity.