Liver disease is a huge worldwide public health problem. Not the type of liver disease associated with alcohol consumption but what is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the general population. Until very recently, NAFLD was almost never seen in children. However, that situation is changing because so many children are now overweight or obese. Having too much belly fat greatly increases the risk of developing liver disease. When children develop liver problems it means they have to suffer the consequences of their condition for decades.
Moderate weight loss is the first line and the most effective intervention in NAFLD therapy, however, there is usually poor compliance on behalf of patients and less than 50 percent achieve weight loss goals even in supervised clinical trials. Based on the results of previously published research, Iranian researchers decided to conduct a first of its kind trial to determine whether the soybean isoflavone genistein favorably affects patients with NAFLD. Genistein is one of the three isoflavones in soybeans. These soybean constituents have been widely studied for their health benefits.
For this study, 82 patients with NAFLD were given either a placebo or genistein daily for 8 weeks. Both groups were instructed to continue to consume their usual diet and exercise habits.
At the end of the study, the genistein group had lower levels of insulin and was better able to use the insulin they produced. In addition, genistein reduced oxidation and inflammation. Finally, genistein reduced the percentage of body fat of the patients. Each of these changes suggests that genistein is useful in the management of liver disease and may actually help to prevent its onset.
Although for this study the researcher used genistein supplements, all of the traditional Asian soyfoods such as tofu and tempeh and soymilk are rich in genistein. Longer term studies are needed before definitive conclusions can be made but the current study plus the previously published research on this topic point toward soyfoods as being able to play a key role in the dietary management of liver disease.