Effects of dietary interventions on liver volume in humans

Obesity (Silver Spring). 2014 Apr;22(4):989-95. doi: 10.1002/oby.20623. Epub 2013 Dec 4.


Objective: To compare effects of similar weight loss induced either by a short-term low-carbohydrate or by a long-term hypocaloric diet, and to determine effects of high carbohydrate overfeeding on liver total, lean, and fat volumes.

Methods: Liver total, lean, and fat volumes were measured before and after (i) a 6-day low-carbohydrate diet (n = 17), (ii) a 7-month standard hypocaloric diet (n = 26), and (iii) a 3-week high-carbohydrate diet (n = 17), by combining magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy ((1) H-MRS) techniques.

Results: At baseline, three groups were comparable with respect to age, body mass index, liver volumes and the liver fat content. Body weight decreased similarly by the short-term and long-term hypocaloric diets. Liver total volume decreased significantly more during the short-term low-carbohydrate (-22 ± 2%) than the long-term (-7 ± 2%) hypocaloric diet (P < 0.001). This was due to a greater decrease in liver lean volume in the short-term (-20 ± 2%) than the long-term (-4 ± 2%) weight loss group (P < 0.001). Decreases in liver fat were comparable. Liver volume increased by 9 ± 3% due to overfeeding (P< 0.02 for before vs. after).

Conclusions: These data support the use of a short-term low-carbohydrate diet whenever a reduction in liver volume is desirable. Overeating carbohydrate is harmful because it increases liver volume.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Caloric Restriction*
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted*
  • Dietary Carbohydrates / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Liver / drug effects
  • Liver / pathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Organ Size / drug effects*
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Weight Loss / drug effects


  • Dietary Carbohydrates