Dr Richard D Johnston

2008 - Guts UK/Nutritional Research Foundation Fellow

Title: Nutritional modulation of hepatic lipid metabolism in health and disease

Project Start Date: December 2008

Completion Date: December 2010


This research programme will try to identify nutritional strategies to treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD occurs when there is an excessive amount of fat within the liver, and is principally a consequence of overfeeding. It may also be a consequence of consuming too much or too little of certain foodstuffs. If untreated NAFLD can progress to cirrhosis or end-stage liver disease. At present the only proven therapy for NAFLD is weight loss. This is often difficult to achieve and so other strategies need to be identified.

Omega 3 fatty acids are essential components of our diet, and have been shown to promote biochemical processes that reduce the liver’s fat stores. In comparison to the general population, NAFLD patients consume a reduced amount of omega 3 fatty acids. There have been some limited clinical studies to date which have suggested that NAFLD patients may benefit from increasing their omega 3 intake.

Fructose is an artificial sweetener that has been shown to increase liver production of fatty acids (the building blocks of fats). It is not known whether a high fructose intake increases the liver’s fat stores.

The effects of omega 3 and fructose on liver fatty acid handling and storage will be assessed in a series of experiments. We will principally use specialised magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans to assess the liver fat stores. The study participants will be assessed by MRI scans and blood tests as well as physical, dietary and lifestyle assessments. These are an exciting and safe set of experiments designed to answer some important public health and nutrition questions.