Eating too much fast food can cause serious damage to the liver, the results of a new study indicate.
A team of Swedish researchers followed the progress of 12 healthy men and six healthy women over a four week period. The average age of the participants was 26.
During the study period, the volunteers ate two fast food meals every day and restricted their physical activity to no more than 5,000 steps per day. A control group meanwhile maintained a normal diet.
The aim of the study was to increase the body weight of the participants by 5-15% and to get them to adopt a more sedentary lifestyle. The effects of this on the liver would then be measured.
At the end of the four week period, the participants had put on an average of just over 6kg (around one stone). One person put on 12 kg in just two weeks.
There were also significant effects in the liver. The researchers measured ALT levels in all the participants. ALT is an enzyme in the liver. Increases in ALT and other liver enzymes are often used by doctors to diagnose liver disease before symptoms develop.
The researchers found that eleven of the 18 volunteers ‘persistently showed ALT above reference limits’. However ALT levels in the control group remained the same.
A number of the participants also developed a major increase in the fat content in their liver cells. This can be associated with insulin resistance, which can be a precursor to diabetes.
“Our study clearly shows that in the evaluation of subjects with elevated ALT, the medical history should include not only questions about alcohol intake but also explore whether recent excessive food intake has occurred”, the researchers said.
Details of these findings are published in the medical journal, Gut.