Life Extension Magazine February 2004
The“Hidden” Liver Disease
By Penelope Hamil
Can NAFLD Be Treated or Prevented?
Phosphatidylcholine (the main component of lecithin) is an integral part of cell membranes, essential for their structural and functional integrity. Cell membranes act like gatekeepers, allowing nutrients into the cells but blocking damaging toxins from gaining entrance. PPC has been shown to enhance cell membrane function throughout the body.
PPC already is approved for the treatment of chronic liver diseases in many European countries and is being investigated for treatment of hepatitis (see sidebar on p. 55, “PPC in Viral Hepatitis”). PPC is listed in the Physician’s Desk Reference (PDR) commonly used by US physicians. An accumulating body of research suggests that PPC’s umbrella of protection may extend from the liver to the stomach, pancreas, and cardiovascular system. PPC is well absorbed in humans and animals when taken orally and has no known contraindications, side effects, or interactions with other drugs, even when consumed in large quantities. In one pilot study, researchers found that daily doses of PPC halted the progression of liver fibrosis,27 and a Czech study showed that taking the supplement every day (along with low doses of fatty acids, B vitamins, and vitamin E) reduced fatty-liver symptoms within six months in more than half of the study participants.28 PPC also appears to increase the breakdown of collagen, the connective-tissue protein that tends to accumulate in liver disease, promoting the scarring behind fibrosis and cirrhosis.29
PPC’s protective effect is believed to be the result of its ability to be incorporated in normal and damaged cell membranes. Animal studies have indicated that PPC, which is a polyunsaturated phosphatidylcholine, becomes incorporated in the membranes of liver cells as a substitute for native saturated phosphatidylcholine molecules.30 This substitution is shown to result in an increase in membrane fluidity and active transport activity across the membrane. Similarly, PPC is incorporated in blood lipoproteins such as cholesterol, leading to lipid-lowering properties. In one Russian clinical trial, the supplement lowered total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol by about 15%, decreased triglyceride levels by 32%, and raised levels of “good” HDL cholesterol by 10%.31
PPC also appears to have antioxidant properties, which means it may effectively reduce the oxidative stress (cellular changes that generate cell-damaging free radicals) shown to be a contributing factor in the inflammation and scarring of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.32
Experts point out that simply losing weight often will result in a significant reduction of excess fat in the liver. But they add that it is best to lose weight slowly—at a rate of no more than 1 to 2 pounds a week—because rapid weight loss has been shown to exacerbate a fatty liver condition, causing inflammation and even resulting in liver failure.33-35
Keeping high glucose levels under control also is critical for NAFLD patients, as research has shown that a fatty liver improves as glucose levels are controlled.36 A preliminary study found that a drug called metformin (Glucophage®), which improves insulin sensitivity and is used to treat type II diabetes, also significantly lowered liver enzyme levels and decreased fatty deposits in the liver in people with NAFLD.7 Additional studies are now under way.
Doctors say that NAFLD can probably be largely prevented and even eliminated in the future by encouraging the adoption of healthy eating habits and more-active lifestyles. For those who already have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, encouraging discoveries show that the use of natural products may potentially alter the course of this serious consequence of aging and unhealthful lifestyles.
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