Gut Bacteria Can Cause Fatty Liver

By: Byron J. Richards, Board Certified Clinical Nutritionist
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The plot thickens.  There are many chefs in the human health kitchen, not the least of which is the foreign contents of your digestive tract.  The accumulation of excess fat in your liver is a huge problem to your health for multiple reasons. The fact that gut bacteria imbalance is now linked to this problem, lends even more importance to the rapidly evolving science of human and gut genome interaction in health and disease.

The study involved 15 women1 placed on identical diets for a two-month period in an inpatient setting (cheating on the diet was impossible).  Their gut contents and gut-genomic signaling was measured at the start of the study.  Their diets were restricted in choline – which is a nutrient that enables fat to flow out of the liver (a lipotropic nutrient). 

The researchers thought they would see the variance in gut balance profiles shift towards the same, as it was thought that the exact same diet would promote the similar gut flora balance.  That didn’t happen at all. Each participant retained their general bacterial balance of power. However, specific bacterial groups either grew in number or were depressed in number. These changes directly related to who developed a fatty liver on the choline-deficient diet.

This study is important because many Americans eat a choline deficient diet (egg yolks, butter, peanuts are excellent sources). This puts them at risk for liver stagnation and fatty liver build-up, especially in combination with eating too much food in general. The lack of choline also causes sluggish bile flow which leads to gallstones and general indigestion that is typically mistaken for excess stomach acid.  This in turn leads to elevating LDL cholesterol and the risk for heart disease. This current study is highly relevant to many human health problems.

The fact that an imbalance of gut bacteria due to choline deficiency is the key point that causes fatty liver build up is quite interesting. In the past I would have argued that choline deficiency alone caused the fatty liver build up. It now appears that it is more often the case than not that the genomic signaling coming from imbalanced gut contents is either causing or contributing to virtually any health problem. This is true whether you have any symptoms of indigestion/digestive discomfort or not.

Referenced Studies:
  1. ^ Choline Deficiency, Fatty Liver, and Gut Bacteria  Gastroenterology,  Melanie D. Spencer, Timothy J. Hamp, Robert W. Reid, Leslie M. Fischer, Steven H. Zeisel, Anthony A. Fodor. 

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