Lifestyle interventions for the treatment of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in adults: a systematic review

J Hepatol. 2012 Jan;56(1):255-66. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2011.06.010. Epub 2011 Jul 1.


Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a serious and growing clinical problem. Despite lifestyle modification, i.e. diet and physical activity, being the recommended therapy, there are currently no systematic evaluations of its efficacy. This review applies a systematic approach to evaluating lifestyle modifications studied to date. Medline (Pubmed), Scopus, and the Cochrane Controlled Trials Register were searched for studies and study groups assessing the effect of diet, physical activity, and/or exercise modification in adult populations with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The outcome markers of interest were indicators of steatosis, histological evidence of inflammation and fibrosis, and glucose control/insulin sensitivity. We identified 23 studies for inclusion; seven had control groups, but only six were randomised. Eleven groups received diet-only interventions, two exercise-only, and 19 diet and physical activity/exercise. Studies consistently showed reductions in liver fat and/or liver aminotransferase concentration, with the strongest correlation being with weight reduction. Of the 5 studies reporting changes in histopathology, all showed a trend towards reduction in inflammation, in 2 this was statistically significant. Changes in fibrosis were less consistent with only one study showing a significant reduction. The majority of studies also reported improvements in glucose control/insulin sensitivity following intervention. However, study design, definition of disease, assessment methods, and interventions varied considerably across studies. Lifestyle modifications leading to weight reduction and/or increased physical activity consistently reduced liver fat and improved glucose control/insulin sensitivity. Limited data also suggest that lifestyle interventions may hold benefits for histopathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Diet Therapy
  • Exercise Therapy
  • Fatty Liver / pathology
  • Fatty Liver / physiopathology
  • Fatty Liver / therapy*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Life Style*
  • Lipid Metabolism
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Activity
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
  • Prospective Studies
  • Weight Reduction Programs