Natural sugar treats fatty liver disease in mice: Researchers

New York, Feb 24 (IANS) A form of natural sugar that triggers liver cells to clean up excess fat may help tackle nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NFLD) in the near future, researchers have found after conducting a key research on mice.

They found that a diet high in fructose plus drinking water that contains three percent trehalose — a form of natural sugar — completely blocked the development of a fatty liver in mice.

The research, published in the journal Science Signaling, showed that trehalose prevents the sugar fructose — thought to be a major contributor of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease — from entering the liver.

Trehalose is a natural sugar found in plants and insects and consists of two glucose molecules bound together.

“In general, if you feed a mouse a high-sugar diet, it gets a fatty liver,” said first author Brian J DeBosch from Washington University School of Medicine in St Louis.

He, however, cautioned that more research is required before trehalose could be tested in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease as part of a clinical trial.

Evidence suggests that nonalcoholic fatty liver disease develops as the liver works hard to process dietary sugar, especially fructose, found naturally in fruit.

The researchers showed that trehalose in mice blocked the transport of energy in the form of sugar into liver cells, causing the cells to behave as if they’re starving.

When a cell is in a state of starvation, it can turn on a process called autophagy, or self-eating, and begin to consume the fat already stored in the cell.

“We appear to be hijacking the liver’s own starvation pathway using a sugar already found in nature,” DeBosch noted.

“We think autophagy may be triggered when the cell is stressed with too much fat or protein buildup. The cell turns on autophagy in response to the stress or because of a lack of energy and starts gobbling stuff up. It’s a house cleaning,” DeBosch explained.

The mice also had lower body weights at the end of the study and lower levels of circulating cholesterol, fatty acids and triglycerides.

“I can’t recommend it [trehalose] to my patients yet and advises them to avoid foods with added fructose, especially sugar-sweetened beverages,” DeBosch noted.

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