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In the news: Curcumin Helps Fight Fatty Liver; Chocolate Worsens Acne
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver: a Global Health Problem
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) refers to the accumulation of excess fat, mainly triglycerides, in the liver cells of people who drink little or no alcohol. This “fatty liver” condition is part of the metabolic syndrome that’s characterized by obesity, diabetes or pre-diabetes (insulin resistance), elevated blood lipids such as cholesterol and triglycerides, and high blood pressure. With the growing rates of obesity and diabetes seen worldwide, it’s no wonder that NAFLD has become a common disorder.
Although having fat in the liver isn’t normal, it probably doesn’t damage the liver by itself. But it can lead to more serious problems such as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH, where the excess fat causes inflammation of liver cells and some degree of tissue scarring.
The first line of defense against NAFLD progressing to NASH is to address the underlying causes of over-weight and insulin resistance through diet and exercise. But researchers have also been looking for complementary means of fighting fatty liver. One recent study investigated the effects of curcumin from turmeric spice in NAFLD, based on promising results from animal studies.
Effects of Curcumin on NAFLD
In this double-blind placebo-controlled trial (1), 80 patients with metabolic syndrome and objective evidence of NAFLD were randomly assigned to receive a supplement (500 mg/day equivalent to 70-mg curcumin) or matched placebo for 8 weeks.
Since curcumin is not well absorbed, the researchers used a formulation that enhanced its absorption.
Compared with placebo, those in the curcumin group had a significant reduction in liver fat content as measured by ultrasound. There were also significant reductions in body mass index, and blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL, triglycerides, liver enzymes and HbA1c (a measure of blood sugar control) compared with the placebo group. These promising results should be confirmed via larger and longer-term trials.
Chocolate a No-No for Those with Acne?
The heart health benefits of chocolate and its cocoa polyphenols or flavonoids have received a lot of attention over the past few years. But for younger people with acne, passing on chocolate treats may be a better way to go.
Whether or not chocolate can worsen acne has been controversial. A study published years ago found that it didn’t, and was replaced by the idea that the sugar content in chocolate might be the culprit. However, that original study has been criticized for flaws in its design.
To revisit this controversial topic (2), investigators assigned 54 college students with acne vulgaris to consume a 1.55 oz. milk chocolate bar or 15 jelly beans – a non-chocolate candy with a similarly high glycemic load (a measure of a food’s impact on blood sugar). Participants also completed dietary logs.
The researchers, who were blinded to the sweet assignment, evaluated acne changes 48 hours later with before and after photographs of participants. After a 4 week washout, the participants switched to the opposite test candy and were again assessed.
Compared to eating the jellybeans, consuming the chocolate bar significantly increased the number of acne lesions.
The authors noted that the flavonoids in chocolate most likely accounted for the findings. But they suggest additional studies with more participants, using specific components of chocolate, and with more diligent documentation of the participants’ diets and menstrual cycles.
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