A new study suggests the use of resistant starch in the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Resistant starch is a form of carbohydrate that can pass through the digestive tract without getting digested. The nutrient ferments in the large intestine and feeds healthy gut bacteria. Oats, whole grains like sorghum and barley, beans and legumes, cooked and cooled rice, potatoes and green bananas are some of the natural sources of resistant starch.

Around 30% of the world's population has non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The WHO has classified it as an epidemic.

Earlier studies have shown that gut microbiome has a close link with NAFLD. Researchers conducted a nutritional clinical study by evaluating 200 participants with NAFLD for four months. The study was published in the journal Cell Metabolism.

All the participants were on a well-balanced diet during the study period. In addition, they were given 40 grams of a starch powder drink before meals twice a day for four months. Half of them were given a resistant starch powder made from maize, while the rest were given a calorie-matched, non-resistant corn starch.

At the end of the study, researchers noticed that the liver triglyceride levels of the group that received resistant starch treatment were around 40% lower compared to people in the control group. Their liver enzymes and inflammatory factors also improved.

While analyzing the fecal samples of the participants, scientists observed a different microbiota composition in the resistant starch group, indicating reduced levels of Bacteroides stercoris, the kind of bacteria that affects fat metabolism in the liver.

"We found that the number of beneficial bacteria increases when resistant starch is metabolized by microorganisms in the colon. At the same time, the number of harmful bacteria decreases. This leads to a more balanced gut microbiome and has a positive impact on health," study first author Yueqiong Ni said.

The team further experimented by transplanting the fecal microbiota from the resistant starch group to mice on a high-fat and high-cholesterol diet. They found significant improvement in liver tissue, liver weight and triglyceride levels in them.

"We found out that the participants in the study benefited from a resistant starch diet, as the accumulation of fat in the diseased liver was reduced. Furthermore, we observed an increase in certain types of bacteria in the gut of the participants; these bacteria positively influenced fat reduction and transport in the liver. In addition, reduced NAFLD and inflammation biomarkers indicate an alleviation of liver damage," study leader Gianni Panagiotou said.

Health benefits of resistant starch

  • Improves metabolic health
  • Improves insulin sensitivity and thus reduces chances of developing type 2 diabetes.
  • Keeps you satiated and may help in weight loss
  • Boosts gut health by making more gut bacteria
  • Reduces constipation and may help with digestive disorders like inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis and Chron's disease.