How Aerobic Exercise Could Improve Liver Health
While binge drinking is never a good idea, and exercise isn’t a way to reverse the body damage alcohol can cause, there is a workout that can boost your liver function, according to the research.
Researchers at the University of Missouri School of Medicine have found that increased levels of aerobic capacity can help lessen the effects of alcohol-induced liver damage. This is because cardio leads to better functioning mitochondrial metabolism.
For the study, the rats were separated into two groups. One group was exposed to chronic alcohol consumption and the other was not. Both rats were put on treadmills, and the rats that were exposed to alcohol had higher amounts of fatty deposits in their livers, but this did not lead to inflammation in the liver due to healthy mitochondria and high metabolism. The researchers concluded that aerobic activity may help protect against the negative side effects of alcohol consumption.
The link between aerobic exercise, alcohol and liver function
Here’s what the experts have to say about the study:
“The study was conducted on rats, so it’s difficult to translate these results to humans. This was a small study of 8 rats, so the sample size is small,” says Lisa Ganjhu, DO, FACG, AGAF, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Divisions of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, NYU Langone Medical Center “The study needs to be in humans to really know if the hypothesis can be validated.”
While the data is fascinating, the study may not be very informative in terms of the alcohol aspect.
“I think the study is groundbreaking and can make a difference in the field of nutrition and wellness,” says Dr. Nicole M. Avena, Ph.D.., scientist and nutrition consultant. “But I don’t think the study is directly related to alcohol itself. Aerobic exercise could lessen the overall damage to any organ system due to increased oxygen in the blood. It should be viewed as exercise, in general, can reduce the risk of environmental/lifestyle disease.
Related: These are the 30 best cardio exercises of all time to get your heart pumping
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The next step would be to use it over a long period of time in humans who have seen the effects of fatty liver disease from alcohol. Then they can say it would improve the results in humans, because right now the short-term rat study says nothing about other environmental factors that humans face, like diet, adds Dr. Avena.
How aerobic activity can protect the liver from alcohol
Aerobic activity increases overall blood flow, exposing more organ systems to more oxygen over time. This can be a great preventative measure for people who like to drink moderate amounts and don’t want to get sick, says Dr. Avena. Apart from this, aerobic activity is effective in reducing overall fat, thus helping to cure fatty liver.
Dr. Ganjhu says that regular physical activity can:
- Improve blood flow to the liver
- Change the composition of bacteria in your body
- Decrease liver inflammation
- Change the way your blood vessels dilate
- Reduce fat in your liver
- Reduce body fat
In reference to alcohol consumption, alcohol induces fat deposition in the liver and increases enzymes to detoxify the liver, says Dr. Ganjhu. The added benefits of exercise may protect the liver from the stress that alcohol can place on the liver, but downregulate inflammatory markers.
Generally, Dr. Ganjhu provides a list of ways to protect your liver:
- Reduce your alcohol intake to no more than two per day for men and no more than one per day for women
- Avoid non-essential medications or supplements
- Avoid complementary or alternative medications
- Keep acetaminophen use to a minimum of 2-3 grams/day
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Get vaccinated to protect yourself from HBV and HAV
- Avoid foods/drinks high in sugar and fat
Next: This Is Exactly How Long Alcohol Stays In Your System, According To Doctors
- Biomolecules: “High intrinsic aerobic capacity protects against ethanol-induced liver injury and metabolic dysfunction: a study using a high-capacity runner rat model”
- Lisa Ganjhu, DO FACG, AGAF, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Divisions of Gastroenterology and Hepatology, NYU Langone Medical Center
- Nicole M. Avena, Ph.D., Nutrition Scientist and Consultant