Healthnotes February 2014



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Vitamin E's Tocotrienols Protect the Liver

Tocotrienols—lesser-known members of the vitamin E family—are powerful antioxidants, like their relatives, the tocopherols. Researchers found in a pilot study that people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, an increasingly common condition linked to obesity and diabetes, improved after supplementing with tocotrienols.

Fat and the liver

In fatty liver disease, large pockets of triglycerides accumulate in the liver cells. Fatty liver is most typically seen in people who excessively drink alcohol or people with metabolic syndrome, which is marked by the combination of other conditions such as diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and triglyceride levels, and high blood pressure.

Whether due to alcoholism or metabolic disorders, fatty liver is reversible; however, if it progresses unchecked, it can lead to chronic liver inflammation, scarring, and eventually cirrhosis. Liver cancer risk is also higher in people with fatty liver.

Fatty liver responds to tocotrienols

In a study published in Nutrition Journal, 87 people with high cholesterol levels and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease were given either 200 mg of mixed tocotrienols twice per day or placebo for one year. Liver ultrasound examinations were done at the beginning and end of the trial, and blood tests were done every three months.

In people taking tocotrienols, 50% had no evidence of fatty liver at the end of the study. In the placebo group, 23.5% had similar reversal of fatty liver. Fatty liver worsened in two people in the placebo group, but no one taking tocotrienols worsened.

“This is the first clinical trial that showed the hepatoprotective effects of mixed palm tocotrienols in hypercholesterolemic adults with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease,” said the study’s authors. Previous studies have demonstrated a similar positive effect for alpha-tocopherol, another vitamin E component.

Reversing fatty liver

If you have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, these findings suggest that taking a mixed tocotrienols supplement may be helpful. Here are some other things you can do:

  • Lose weight. Easier said than done, for sure, but studies have found that weight loss helps improve metabolic disorders and reverse fatty liver. So cut down your calories and get out your walking shoes.
  • Choose carbs carefully. Even if you don’t lose weight, choosing carbohydrates with a lower glycemic index (those not quickly converted into glucose in the body) over higher glycemic carbs (which are converted quickly into glucose) will help reverse the fatty liver damage. Whole grains and whole grain products generally have lower glycemic values than refined grains and things made from them.
  • Pass on the corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup is in a surprising array of foods, and researchers have found that consuming high amounts of fructose can contribute to fatty liver. Read labels carefully, and choose foods that are free of high fructose corn syrup.

(Nutr J 2013;12:166. doi: 10.1186/1475-2891-12-166)

Maureen Williams, ND, completed her doctorate in naturopathic medicine at Bastyr University in Seattle and has been in private practice since 1995. With an abiding commitment to access to care, she has worked in free clinics in the US and Canada, and in rural clinics in Guatemala and Honduras where she has studied traditional herbal medicine. She currently lives and practices in Victoria, BC, and lectures and writes extensively for both professional and community audiences on topics including family nutrition, menopause, anxiety and depression, heart disease, cancer, and easing stress. Dr. Williams is a regular contributor to Healthnotes Newswire.
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