B vitamins and folic acid may be used to treat fatty liver disease, study finds

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Experts say the vitamins may help slow the progression of the disease

A new study conducted by researchers from Duke-NUS explored the health benefits of B vitamins. According to their findings, vitamin B12 and folic acid may be used in the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and slow the progression of the disease.

The researchers explained that the treatment may help prevent non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a severe form of liver disease where scar tissue and inflammation occur. 

“Our findings are both exciting and important because they suggest that a relatively inexpensive therapy, vitamin B12 and folic acid, could be used to prevent and/or delay the progression of NASH,” said researcher Dr. Brijesh Singh. “Additionally, serum and hepatic homocysteine levels could serve as biomarkers for NASH severity.” 

Improving liver health

The researchers started their work by examining the role that homocysteine, an amino acid, plays in liver disease. Earlier studies have linked higher levels of it to the development of NASH. This study assessed the interaction between homocysteine and liver function in preclinical trials. 

While the team was able to confirm that elevated homocysteine levels can impede consumers’ liver function, they also found that increasing consumers' intake of both vitamin B and folic acid promoted better liver health. 

The researchers found that taking supplements for both vitamins restored key liver functions. Not only did it slow the progression of liver disease and the development of NASH, but it also increased levels of syntaxin 17, which is an important protein in the liver. With higher syntaxin 17 levels, the liver was able to remove toxins and produce healthier cells. High levels of each vitamin were also linked with a lower risk of fibrosis and liver inflammation. 

“While fat deposition in the liver is reversible in its early stages, its progression to NASH causes liver dysfunction, cirrhosis, and increases the risk for liver cancer,” Dr. Madhulika Tripathi. 

While there are currently no treatments available for patients with NASH, the researchers hope their findings highlight the benefits of increasing vitamin B and folic acid levels. 

“Currently, the only treatment for patients with end-stage liver disease is to receive a transplant,” said researcher Patrick Casey. “The findings by Dr. Tripathi and her colleagues demonstrate that a simple, affordable, and accessible intervention could potentially half or reverse the damage to the liver, bringing new hope to those suffering from fatty liver diseases. The team’s findings underscore the value of basic scientific research, through which the scientific community continues to have a major positive impact on the lives of patients.” 

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