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A Single Adjustment to Just One Meal Can Benefit Liver Disease Patients : ScienceAlert

Eating no meat for just one meal reduces harmful ammonia buildup in people with advanced liver disease, according to a small clinical trial in the United States. The results suggest that even small dietary interventions could help these patients avoid serious complications.

Ammonia is highly toxic, especially if it reaches our brains, but it is also the natural byproduct of protein digestion in the human body, a normal waste product for which we are generally equipped.

In a healthy person, ammonia is released from our diet by bacteria in the intestines during the breakdown of proteins. It passes to the liver which transforms it into a less toxic form, urea, which is eliminated in the urine.

Protein-rich foods – especially those of animal origin – are generally considered part of a healthy diet, but this new study suggests that moderating meat consumption could ease the burden for people with cirrhosis, the most common stage. more advanced liver disease.

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The more meat you eat, the more ammonia your liver has to process, and an already damaged liver will inevitably struggle to do the job. This leads to a deficiency of ammonia in the blood, which is linked to hepatic encephalopathy (HE), a type of cognitive decline.

The onset of HE can be gradual or sudden with liver failure and can sometimes lead to coma, where swelling of brain tissue can be fatal. This new research suggests a seemingly simple way for people with cirrhosis to avoid these flow-on effects, by going straight to the source.

Thirty male outpatients with cirrhosis treated at the Richmond Veterans Affairs Medical Center participated in the study, although not all participants were veterans. All were habitual meat eaters, followed a diet similar to that of the West, and had similar gut bacteria profiles before the experiment. Half of them had already had an HE.

The patients were divided into three groups, each receiving a different type of hamburger at mealtime. All burgers contained exactly 20 grams of protein: pork/beef burgers for the first group, a vegan meat substitute for the second group, and a veggie bean burger for the third. All burgers were served with whole grain buns, low fat chips and water – no extras allowed, no supersizes.

Where possible, the only main difference between the groups was the protein source in their burgers. But this difference had a measurable effect, according to analysis of their blood samples taken before and after the meal.

Serum blood ammonia levels were significantly elevated for patients in the meat hamburger group, compared to the other two groups and to the baseline levels of all patients before the meal.

Patients with prior HE had higher blood serum ammonia levels across the board, but those in the meat group also showed a post-hamburger spike within an hour of eating, a trend unique to their group.

“It was exciting to see that even small changes in your diet, like having a meat-free meal every now and then, could benefit your liver by reducing harmful ammonia levels in patients with cirrhosis,” explains gastroenterologist Jasmohan Bajaj of Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Patients with liver cirrhosis need to know that making positive changes to their diet does not have to be overwhelming or difficult.”

Although the study is preliminary and the measurements were taken after a single meal, the team is confident enough in the results to suggest that doctors start implementing them by encouraging their patients with carnivorous liver disease to incorporate plant-based alternatives into their diet.

We know from other research that eating less meat and more vegetables is linked to a longer, healthier life with a lower risk of cancer. It’s also good for the planet.

Researchers believe the next step will be to conduct longer-term studies on the effects of similar dietary changes on patients with cirrhosis.

“We now need more research to know whether eating meat-free meals goes beyond reducing ammonia and helps prevent problems with brain function and the progression of liver disease,” says Bajaj.

This research is published in Clinical and translational gastroenterology.

News Source : www.sciencealert.com
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