Compound found in some vegetables may treat common liver disease

A naturally occurring compound found in some vegetables like cauliflower and broccoli has been found to help treat a common liver condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). In addition to helping people who are already suffering from this condition, the study, which comes from Texas A&M AgriLife Research, found that this same compound may help prevent the condition altogether.

Put simply, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition in which one's liver essentially becomes 'marbled' with fat. In cases where alcohol is not a factor, this condition can be caused by eating too much saturated fat, type-2 diabetes, gastric bypass surgery, and high cholesterol levels, among other things.

There's no single standard treatment for this condition; rather, doctors tend to focus on treating the main health issue that caused the disease, such as getting the patient to change their diet. The newly published study has found that cruciferous vegetables may be a pathway toward a direct treatment, however, due to a beneficial compound they contain: indole. Some gut bacteria also produce this compound.

The study involved 137 participants; the researchers found that participants who had higher BMIs were also more likely to have lower blood levels of indole, particularly when comparing very obese participants with lean participants. The participants who had lower indole levels were also found to have higher amounts of fat in their livers.

The team took things a step farther and tested indole in animals; the ones given indole experienced 'significantly decreased' liver inflammation and fat in the liver compared to mice that weren't given the compound. A similar effect was observed with individual cells tested with indole. Though additional research is necessary, the findings indicate that regularly eating vegetables that contain indole may help protect liver health.