Recent research has found that probiotics may be effective at preventing and delaying the progression of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
A healthy, balanced gut microbiome has been linked to numerous benefits, including improved immune, heart, and brain function. But according to research from 2015, an imbalanced microbiome has been linked to adverse conditions such as inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, and liver disease.
Probiotics can help keep your gut microbiome in balance, and in doing so, may help prevent and delay the progression of NAFLD.
While research into exactly which probiotics are most effective for preventing and treating NAFLD (as well as how much, how often, and how long you should take them) is still underway, several studies have shown promising results.
Fast facts about nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- NAFLD occurs when too much fat builds up in the liver.
- When drinking excess alcohol is the cause of fatty liver disease, it’s called alcohol-related liver disease.
- NAFLD is the most common cause of liver disease in the United States, according to the
National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK).
- Experts estimate that about
24%of adults in the United States have NAFLD.
1.5–6.5%of people with NAFLD have a more serious form of the disease called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which causes inflammation and damage to your liver.
Researchers have found a complex interplay between your gut microbiome and your health. A 2023 review of studies found that type 2 diabetes, lipid metabolism disorders, and obesity are all closely related to NAFLD. These conditions can all contribute to fat building up in the liver.
In addition, when intestinal flora (your gut bacteria) is imbalanced, it allows things to move from the intestines to the liver more freely. This can cause issues such as inflammation and disruptions to lipid metabolism that can also contribute to the buildup of fat in the liver.
Here’s where probiotics may help. According to a
- improving liver enzyme levels
- reducing insulin resistance
- helping to regulate lipid metabolism
- reducing liver inflammation
In short, several studies have found that probiotic use is effective at delaying the progression of (and potentially preventing) NAFLD.
Can probiotics help with other liver disorders?
Researchers from a
Experimental studies have shown some promise for the use of probiotics to treat alcohol-related liver disease, but so far there are very few clinical trials that support that idea.
When it comes to the use of probiotics for other liver diseases, such as hepatitis B and C, and Wilson’s disease, experts say they’re either poorly studied or not studied at all.
While the science is making it increasingly clear that probiotic therapy has the potential to prevent and treat NAFLD, exactly what type of probiotic, how much, how often, and how long to continue the therapy is still up in the air. That said, there are some clues as to what might be most beneficial.
When it comes to types of probiotics that are best for treating NAFLD, a 2023 study notes that the probiotics that have shown to help with NAFLD management include Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium species. In addition, the studies that were analyzed had participants take a probiotic once or twice a day.
When it comes to how long you’ll need to take probiotics, you may want to think of it as a long-term commitment. In the 2023 review of studies, researchers found that participants with NAFLD who took probiotics for longer than 12 weeks saw the most improvements.
Of course, it’s always best to talk with a doctor before starting a probiotic regimen. They’ll know what’s best for your specific situation and can provide recommendations in terms of type of probiotic, dosage, and duration.
While there are no medications or procedures approved for the treatment of NAFLD, certain lifestyle changes can help reduce the amount of fat in your liver, according to the
- getting regular exercise
- eating nutrient-dense foods
- avoiding alcohol
- reducing the amount of time you’re sedentary during the day
- losing weight if you have overweight or obesity (according to the
NIDDK, losing around 3–5% of your body weight can help lower the amount of fat in your liver. Gradual weight loss is best, as malnutrition and rapid weight loss can make liver issues worse.)
Not everyone with NAFLD may want to lose weight. Increasing physical activity without weight loss is also beneficial, according to experts. And remember, it’s a good idea to talk with a doctor before starting a new exercise routine.
It’s worth noting that the effects of weight discrimination can also contribute to negative health effects.
How long does it take to heal from fatty liver disease?
If you’ve received a diagnosis of NAFLD, you most likely won’t develop any complications from it, although it’s possible you might experience pain from an enlarged liver. NAFLD doesn’t typically go away completely, but with lifestyle changes, and potentially with probiotics, it can be managed.
If you’ve received a diagnosis of
NAFLD typically has
If you feel particularly fatigued or experience pain in the upper right side of your abdomen, those could be symptoms of NAFLD, so you’ll want to consider checking in with a doctor.
More often, though, NAFLD is diagnosed after routine blood tests come back with levels of liver enzymes that are higher than normal.
Common risk factors for NAFLD
NAFLD is a common liver disease, but some people may be more likely to develop it. Here are
- having overweight or obesity
- having insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes
- having abnormal levels of fat in your blood, such as high triglycerides, high total cholesterol, high low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, or low levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol
- having one or more traits of metabolic syndrome, such as high blood pressure
- having genes that may predispose you to liver disorders
- potentially having a diet high in a type of sugar called fructose
- having an imbalanced gut microbiome
While experts don’t yet have formal recommendations for taking probiotics for fatty liver disease, research shows that these tiny microorganisms can have a big effect on preventing and delaying disease progression for NAFLD.
If you’re curious on whether probiotics might be worth a try, consider bringing it up at your next doctor’s appointment. Taking probiotic won’t hurt, and you might even find that it helps with your digestion and other gastrointestinal issues.