Study shows benefit of soy isoflavones for NAFLD sufferers

A new study from Iran shows that soy isoflavones can boost the benefits of diet and exercise for sufferers of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This condition is connected to the world obesity epidemic, which statistics show is only getting worse.

May 24, 2024

3 Min Read

At a Glance

  • Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a growing problem worldwide. 
  • Soy isoflavones have been shown to have some benefit for these patients. 
  • New research shows they amplify the benefits of diet and exercise for NAFLD sufferers. 

A new study from Iran suggests soy isoflavones could benefit sufferers of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is the most common form of liver disease worldwide. The condition is closely linked to the global obesity epidemic. 

The new research was published in the journal BMC Public Health and spearheaded by a group of researchers associated with several universities, medical schools and research institutes in Iran. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, NAFLD is divided into two subsidiary conditions: nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).  

NAFL is the less serious of the two and is defined as an enlarged liver containing excess fat but without inflammation or liver damage, though some patients experience pain with the condition.  It can predispose patients to other health complications. 

NAFL, however, can progress to the second stage, NASH (and some patients develop NASH directly). In this condition, the liver is both fatty and beginning to show signs of incipient cirrhosis. The endpoint of this condition is liver failure and death without a liver transplant. 

Condition tied to rising tide of obesity

NAFLD is the most common form of liver disease in the U.S. (and, according to this latest research, in Iran, too). Both obesity and type 2 diabetes are conditions that predispose patients to developing NAFLD. 

Obesity continues to be a vexing problem worldwide. According to the World Obesity Federation, obesity rate increases are accelerating in many countries. 

According to a World Obesity Atlas report published by the federation last year, 46% of Iran’s population is expected to be designated as obese by the year 2035. And of equal or greater concern, the rate of increase among children is forecast to be among the highest in the world at 5.3% per year in the 2020-2035 period. 

The figures cited in the report are even more dire for the U.S. In 2035, 58% of the country is expected to qualify as obese. 

Economists quibble over how exactly to quantify the impact of obesity, but in both countries and elsewhere around the world, the cost to national economies and the burden placed on healthcare systems will be immense. 

Research in Iran 

To test whether soy isoflavones could amplify the effects of nutrition and lifestyle counseling for people in this group, the researchers recruited 75 potential subjects who were patients at a hepatology clinic in Tehran. The subject list was reduced to 50, divided into intervention and placebo groups, although four subjects in the placebo group dropped out before the end of the study. 

The subjects ingested 100 milligrams (mg) of soy isoflavones or identical placebos in two tablets prepared by an Iranian pharmaceutical company. The isoflavones tablets contained genistin, with smaller amounts of genistein, daidzin, daidzein, glycitin and glycitein.  

The subjects took the soy tablets or placebos for 12 weeks. Both groups received counseling on improving their diets, limiting calories and gradually increasing their activity levels. At baseline and again at the end of the study, the researchers measured waist and hip circumferences, blood pressure, and standard blood measures such as LDL and HDL cholesterol and triglycerides. 

Both groups showed some improvement, but the soy isoflavones group showed the most. 

“In conclusion, daily administration of 100 mg/day soy isoflavones can reduce serum concentration of triglyceride, LDL and total cholesterol and resulted in waist and hip circumferences decrement as markers of metabolic status in NAFLD patients,” the researchers wrote. 

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