Liver Fat Scores Moderately Reflect Interventional Changes in Liver Fat Content by a Low-Fat Diet but Not by a Low-Carb Diet

Nutrients. 2018 Jan 31;10(2):157. doi: 10.3390/nu10020157.


Background: Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common metabolic disorder all over the world, mainly being associated with a sedentary lifestyle, adiposity, and nutrient imbalance. The increasing prevalence of NAFLD accommodates similar developments for type 2 diabetes and diabetes-related comorbidities and complications. Therefore, early detection of NAFLD is an utmost necessity. Potentially helpful tools for the prediction of NAFLD are liver fat indices. The fatty liver index (FLI) and the NAFLD-liver fat score (NAFLD-LFS) have been recently introduced for this aim. However, both indices have been shown to correlate with liver fat status, but there is neither sufficient data on the longitudinal representation of liver fat change, nor proof of a diet-independent correlation between actual liver fat change and change of index values. While few data sets on low-fat diets have been published recently, low-carb diets have not been yet assessed in this context.

Aim: We aim to provide such data from a highly effective short-term intervention to reduce liver fat, comparing a low-fat and a low-carb diet in subjects with prediabetes.

Methods: Anthropometric measurements, magnetic resonance (MR)-based intrahepatic lipid (IHL) content, and several serum markers for liver damage have been collected in 140 subjects, completing the diet phase in this trial. Area-under-the-responder-operator-curves (AUROC) calculations as well as cross-sectional and longitudinal Spearman correlations were used.

Results: Both FLI and NAFLD-LFS predict liver fat with moderate accuracy at baseline (AUROC 0.775-0.786). These results are supported by correlation analyses. Changes in liver fat, achieved by the dietary intervention, correlate moderately with changes in FLI and NAFLD-LFS in the low-fat diet, but not in the low-carb diet. A correlation analysis between change of actual IHL content and change of single elements of the liver fat indices revealed diet-specific moderate to strong correlations between ΔIHL and changes of measures of obesity, ΔTG, and ΔALT (all low-fat, only) and between ΔIHL and ΔGGT (low-carb, only). With exception for a stronger decrease of triglycerides (TG) levels in the low-carb diet, there is no statistically significant difference in the effect of the diets on anthropometric or serum-based score parameters.

Conclusion: While liver fat indices have proved useful in the early detection of NAFLD and may serve as a cost-saving substitute for expensive MR measurements in the cross-sectional evaluation of liver status, their capability to represent interventional changes of liver fat content appears to be diet-specific and lacks accuracy. Liver fat reduction by low-fat diets can be monitored with moderate precision, while low-carb diets require different measuring techniques to demonstrate the same dietary effect.

Keywords: NAFLD; diet; intervention; liver fat index; liver fat score; low-carb; low-fat; prediction.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Adiposity*
  • Aged
  • Anthropometry
  • Area Under Curve
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Blood Glucose / metabolism
  • Diet, Carbohydrate-Restricted*
  • Diet, Fat-Restricted*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Lipids / blood
  • Liver / metabolism
  • Liver / physiopathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / blood
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / diagnosis
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / diet therapy*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / physiopathology
  • Prediabetic State / blood
  • Prediabetic State / diagnosis
  • Prediabetic State / diet therapy*
  • Prediabetic State / physiopathology
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • ROC Curve
  • Risk Reduction Behavior*
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Time Factors
  • Treatment Outcome


  • Biomarkers
  • Blood Glucose
  • Lipids