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Eating saturated fat has immediate effect on your liver

23 January 2017

Scientists have foundthat eating a lot of saturated fat could have an effect on your liver straight after the meal.

Immediate effects

A team in Germany have investigated what happens to people and mice after drinking one portion of saturated fat, equivalent to the amount of fat you would find in a cheeseburger and a large portion of fries.

They found that after having the saturated fat, insulin resistance immediately increased and it affected the way the liver works. But all measurements returned to normal later after the meal.

Why is this important?

Eating lots of fatty food is linked to a build-up of fat in the liver and insulin resistance, when the hormone insulin can't properly control levels of glucose in the blood. Insulin resistance can be the first step towards Type 2 diabetes.

But until now, we haven’t been able to see what’s actually happening inside the body after you eat a lot of saturated fat.

The scientists showed that the insulin resistance and changes to liver function go back to normal after some time in healthy people. However, they’re concerned that this may not be the case if people are regularly eating foods containing high amount of saturated fat, as it may lead to long-term insulin resistance and liver disease. Currently more research is needed to support this theory.

Before we make any conclusions

This was a very small study looking at what happens to lean and healthy men for a very short period in time after drinking a portion of saturated fat. But what happens in women?

Even though this research showed how our bodies respond to saturated fat, it doesn’t reflect real life, where every meal we eat has a mixture of components – fat, protein, and carbohydrates. Each of them may have a different effect on our bodies.

Future perspective

Dr Emily Burns from Diabetes UK says: “We recommend following a balanced diet to help achieve and maintain a healthy weight while we’re waiting for the full picture through more research.”

You can find more tips for healthy diet in ourEnjoy Food section.

More science?

Researchers looked at how the bodies of healthy men responded to drinking palm oil (which is a saturated fat) with some sugar-free vanilla flavouring. They compared this to healthy men drinking the same volume of water with the same flavouring.

They measured hormone levels, insulin resistance, and liver fat content every hour for up to eight hours after drinking the saturated fat.

Mice were also given a portion of saturated fat and researchers looked at whether this had an impact on which genes were turned on or off in their liver. The team found that genes related to a build-up of fat in the liver (known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) were turned on in the mice after drinking saturated fat.

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