Mediterranean diet reduces liver fat, decreases obesity health risks

A low-carbohydrate Mediterranean diet had a greater effect on reducing fat around the liver, heart, and pancreas compared to low-fat diets with similar calorie counts, which may be more important than weight loss alone, according to a new study from the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, led by Iris Shai, PhD, and published in the Journal of Hepatology.

As part of the CENTRAL trial, researchers, in collaboration with teams from Dimona Nuclear Research Center and Soroka University Medical Center in Israel, as well as Harvard University in Boston, Massachusetts and Leipzig University in Germany, conducted full-body magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans of 278 obese subjects, mapping their fat deposits before, during, and after the 18-month trial period to analyze the effects of various diet regimes on body fat distribution.

The researchers reported a 30 percent reduction in liver fat combined with moderate weight loss is a key element in reducing health risks associated with obesity over the long term. High hepatic fat content is associated with metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and coronary heart disease. Together with moderate weight loss, fat around the heart decreased by 11 percent and visceral fat was reduced by 25 percent. Pancreatic and muscle fat was reduced by only 1 to 2 percent, according to the study abstract.

The research team tested the significance of reducing liver fat, in contrast to visceral fat, by comparing the results of some 278 overweight people who followed two reduced-calorie diet regimes, a Mediterranean diet and a low-fat diet. Following the subjects for 18 months demonstrated that changing their respective nutrition habits was consistent with the trial groups to which they were randomly assigned.

The CENTRAL study has achieved significant breakthroughs toward developing personalized nutritional protocols to address a variety of specific fat deposits using MRI technology, the most precise method currently available for mapping and quantifying fat deposits throughout the human body and for understanding their significance and the role they play.

The study also contributes a vast database, consisting of thousands of body images, for finding and mapping fat deposits in the human body. During a person's lifetime, fat cells move between body parts and that fat plays a variety of health roles, from defense to neutral to poisonous. By following the extent and breadth of these changes over time, the researchers, who have developed technologies to quantify specific types of fats, have now paved the way for deeper, more precise understanding of the dynamics of weight loss during a diet period.