Nonalcoholic fatty liver is frequently observed in obese individuals, yet the factors that predict its development and progression to liver disease are poorly understood. We proposed that proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1)H-MRS) might allow noninvasive assessment of hepatic lipid composition. Lipid saturation (SI) and polyunsaturation (PUI) indices measured by (1)H-MRS were in agreement with those expected in oils of known composition. Hepatic triglyceride concentration (HTGC) and composition were then measured in healthy lean (LEAN) men, obese men with normal HTGC (OB), and obese men with hepatic steatosis (OB+HS). The effect of marked changes in dietary fat consumption on hepatic lipids were also compared in lean men after 67 hours of a normal mixed (NM) diet versus a low-carbohydrate, high-saturated-fat (LCHF) diet. SI was significantly higher in OB+HS (0.970 +/- 0.004) and OB (0.944 +/- 0.008) versus LEAN (0.818 +/- 0.025) (P < 0.01 for both). PUI was significantly lower in OB+HS (0.003 +/- 0.001) and OB (0.022 +/- 0.005) versus LEAN (0.120 +/- 0.021) (P < 0.01), and significantly lower in OB+HS versus OB (P < 0.05). LCHF diet did not alter HTGC, SI, or PUI (P > 0.05). The (1)H-MRS method provides for rapid, qualitative assessment of lipid composition. Application of this technique in the liver produces results that are consistent with biopsy-based approaches demonstrating that relative hepatic lipid saturation increases and polyunsaturation decreases with obesity. Obesity-related hepatic steatosis is characterized by further depletion of polyunsaturated hepatic lipids.
Conclusion: This readily available and noninvasive approach should promote further study into interactions between hepatic and whole-body lipid metabolism and help to elucidate the pathogenesis of disorders characterized by lipid accumulation within the liver.