The body is a holistic collection of systems. That means if one system suffers, the entire body suffers. It’s a fact clinicians have always known, but one that’s becoming more apparent as scientists delve into systems that, on the surface, may not seem directly connected.
Case in point: how Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), a disease localized to the liver, can affect the integrity of brain tissue. Scientists are continually studying the ways NAFLD—and the physical degeneration it causes—threatens peripheral organ systems. What they’re finding is that NAFLD can also damage the mind, potentially leading to life-threatening conditions like brain tissue hypoxia.
Here’s what you need to know about the links between these two serious diseases, and how Vitamin E may play a role in protecting against them.
How NAFLD damages the brain
NAFLD is a condition that’s growing more prevalent with each passing year. It affects as much as 25% of the U.S. population, and there are well-established links between NAFLD and other serious physical conditions. Now, emerging research suggests that the effects of NAFLD have a direct and deteriorating effect on the brain. Not only do people with NAFLD have increased odds of depression, but also other degenerative neurological conditions, including dementia.
A recent study by the Journal of Hepatology found that there’s a clear and proven correlation between NAFLD’s physical symptoms and brain degeneration. Splitting mice into two control groups, researchers found that the group fed a high fat diet began to show signs of fat accumulation in the liver—and then the brain.
Scientists believe that Monocarboxylate Transporter 1 (MCT1), a protein used to transport energy, plays a role in the liver- and brain-damaging effects of high-fat diets. To test this hypothesis, they bred mice to have reduced levels of MCT1, and the findings were interesting. These mice had no fat accumulation, along with no signs of brain degeneration—even when fed an unhealthy, high-fat diet.
While research is ongoing, it appears that MCT1 is a critical element in the relationship between the liver and the brain and targeting this protein may help scientists develop treatments for NAFLD.
What is brain tissue hypoxia?
From the study described above, scientists believe that NAFLD could play a role in the development of neurodegenerative conditions, like brain tissue hypoxia.
This serious condition inhibits oxygen flow to the brain, which can rapidly cause brain cells to die—sometimes in a matter of minutes. As a result, cerebral (brain) hypoxia can quickly lead to permanent brain damage, or even death.
With the links between NAFLD and neurological conditions like brain hypoxia becoming ever clearer, people who are more at risk for NAFLD—like those with high-fat, high-sugar diets—should make changes to preserve the health of their liver—and, in turn, their brain.
Diet and the root causes of NAFLD
While most liver-related conditions usually correlate to alcohol consumption, as its name implies, NAFLD affects those who don’t over-consume. Instead, it occurs in people whose bodies are prone to storing too much fat in liver cells.
While scientists are still researching the reasons why some people store more fat in their liver than others, there are a few common links between most people who live with NAFLD, including:
- Hyperglycemia (high blood sugar)
- High fats—especially triglycerides—in the blood
- Insulin resistance
While the precise cause behind NAFLD is still unclear, doctors and scientists agree that the best ways to reduce the risk of developing the disease—or even reverse it in its early stages—are eating a healthy diet, getting enough exercise and maintaining a healthy weight. These factors cumulatively enable the body to maintain proper levels of key vitamins and nutrients that mitigate the risk of NAFLD.
Vitamin E for NAFLD: a preventive opportunity
Antioxidants play a big role in helping the body stave off disease, especially chronic inflammatory conditions. A plant-based diet feeds the body with the antioxidants it needs to fight off inflammation in the liver, brain and throughout the body. It’s why scientists stress a healthy, plant-based diet as one of the best ways to prevent NAFLD—or reverse its early effects.
Many people lack one particularly important antioxidant in their diet: Vitamin E—or, more specifically, the full Vitamin E complex with all 8 of the nutrient’s beneficial isomers. This powerful anti-inflammatory is found in whole foods that are high in fat, including fish and seed oils, and in lower levels in leafy green vegetables.
Taking a Vitamin E complex supplement (mixed tocopherols) provides the body with all the beneficial forms of Vitamin E, which may aid in reducing inflammation and serious conditions that often accompany it—including NAFLD and brain tissue hypoxia.
Preserving the brain by protecting the body
The body is a holistic system, and diet, exercise and proactive supplementation can improve the entire body, including the mind. While research is ongoing, there’s strong support for Vitamin E’s role in reducing NAFLD—which in turn could help reduce the risk of brain tissue hypoxia and preserve brain health. It’s prudent to understand these links, and to make sure you’re getting the antioxidant protection you need to stave off NAFLD and affiliated problems.