New Research Establishes How and Why Western Diets High in Sugar and Fat Cause Liver Disease

New research has established a link between western diets high in fat and sugar and the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the leading cause of chronic liver disease.

The research has identified the western diet-induced microbial and metabolic contributors to liver disease, advancing our understanding of the gut-liver axis, and in turn the development of dietary and microbial interventions for this global health threat.

“We’re just beginning to understand how food and gut microbiota interact to produce metabolites that contribute to the development of liver disease,” said co-principal investigator Guangfu Li, PhD, DVM. “However, the specific bacteria and metabolites, as well as the underlying mechanisms were not well understood until now. This research is unlocking the how and why.”

The gut and liver have a close anatomical and functional connection via the portal vein. Unhealthy diets change the gut microbiota, resulting in the production of pathogenic factors that impact the liver. By feeding mice foods high in fat and sugar, the research team discovered that the mice developed a gut bacteria called Blautia producta and a lipid that caused liver inflammation and fibrosis. That, in turn, caused the mice to develop non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or fatty liver disease, with similar features to the human disease.

As part of this study, the researchers tested treating the mice with an antibiotic cocktail administered via drinking water. They found that the antibiotic treatment reduced liver inflammation and lipid accumulation, resulting in a reduction in fatty liver disease. These results suggest that antibiotic-induced changes in the gut microbiota can suppress inflammatory responses and liver fibrosis.


Ming Yang, Xiaoqiang Qi, Nan Li, Jussuf T. Kaifi, Shiyou Chen, Andrew A. Wheeler, Eric T. Kimchi, Aaron C. Ericsson, R. Scott Rector, Kevin F. Staveley-O’Carroll, Guangfu Li. Western diet contributes to the pathogenesis of non-alcoholic steatohepatitis in male mice via remodeling gut microbiota and increasing production of 2-oleoylglycerol. Nature Communications, 2023; 14 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-023-35861-1

University of Missouri-Columbia. “New research establishes how and why Western diets high in sugar and fat cause liver disease: Research is unlocking how the food we eat contributes to an epidemic of chronic liver disease.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 15 March 2023. <>.

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