The role of nutrition and diet in the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is still not fully understood. In the present study, we determined if dietary pattern and markers of intestinal permeability differ between overweight children with and without NAFLD. In addition, in a feasibility study, we assessed the effect of a moderate dietary intervention only focusing on nutrients identified to differ between groups on markers of intestinal barrier function and health status. Anthropometric data, dietary intake, metabolic parameters, and markers of inflammation, as well as of intestinal permeability, were assessed in overweight children (n = 89, aged 5⁻9) and normal-weight healthy controls (n = 36, aged 5⁻9). Sixteen children suffered from early signs of NAFLD, e.g., steatosis grade 1 as determined by ultrasound. Twelve children showing early signs of NAFLD were enrolled in the intervention study (n = 6 intervention, n = 6 control). Body mass index (BMI), BMI standard deviation score (BMI-SDS), and waist circumference were significantly higher in NAFLD children than in overweight children without NAFLD. Levels of bacterial endotoxin, lipopolysaccharide-binding protein (LBP), and proinflammatory markers like interleukin 6 (IL-6) and tumor necrosis factor α (TNFα) were also significantly higher in overweight children with NAFLD compared to those without. Total energy and carbohydrate intake were higher in NAFLD children than in those without. The higher carbohydrate intake mainly resulted from a higher total fructose and glucose intake derived from a significantly higher consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages. When counseling children with NAFLD regarding fructose intake (four times, 30⁻60 min within 1 year; one one-on-one counseling and three group counselings), neither alanine aminotransferase (ALT) nor aspartate aminotransferase (AST) activity in serum changed; however, diastolic blood pressure (p < 0.05) and bacterial endotoxin levels (p = 0.06) decreased markedly in the intervention group after one year. Similar changes were not found in uncounseled children. Our results suggest that a sugar-rich diet might contribute to the development of early stages of NAFLD in overweight children, and that moderate dietary counseling might improve the metabolic status of overweight children with NAFLD.
Keywords: NAFLD; children; dietary intervention; dietary pattern; fructose; overweight.