Lifestyle change better than drugs in curing liver disease, study suggests

60 per cent of patients with liver condition see symptoms subside through special diet and exercise, Chinese University researchers find

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 5:05pm
UPDATED : Friday, 20 December, 2013, 5:05pm

More than 60 per cent of patients recovered from fatty liver disease without the use of medication after changing their lifestyles, a Chinese University study has found.

Between 2008 and last year, 154 patients diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NFLD) were randomly selected to receive either usual care or to follow a lifestyle-modification programme developed by the university.

Of the patients who followed the one-year programme, 64 per cent were in complete remission, compared with just 20 per cent of those who received the usual care for the disease.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease affects 27 per cent of Hongkongers and its incidence is strongly related to obesity, both of which are growing problems in the city. There is no medication to treat the disease.

Usual care tracks only patients’ weight loss, while the lifestyle-modification programme took into account nutrition, exercise, rest, as well as sleeping and eating schedules, said Mandy Sea Man-mei, manager and principal nutritionist at the university’s centre of nutritional studies.

Patients on the programme followed a diet of fruit and vegetables, moderate carbohydrates along with food that was low-fat, had a low glycaemic index and low calories.

They also exercised for 20 minutes, five times a week.

Professor Henry Chan Lik-yuen, director of the university’s centre for liver health, said the programme was customised to each patient’s needs.

"Just reducing weight is not too difficult.” he said. “But if the patient’s lifestyle remains unchanged, it is not sustainable.”

More than one million adults in Hong Kong suffer from the disease. Of them, 40,000 have advanced fibrosis (scarring in the liver as a response to disease) or cirrhosis (liver damage where the organ is almost completely made up of scar tissue), and up to 30 per cent of them will develop liver cancer and other complications.

“Obesity-related problems are not confined to just fatty liver disease. Obese people are also more prone to heart attacks, heart diseases and joint problems like knee and back pain,” Chan said. “And now we have more evidence showing that cancer is also related to obesity.”