A while ago, I published my annual blood test results for the last seven years. In terms of cardiovascular indicators, the tests were good. I did a little victory lap, celebrating (1) that I was still alive and (2) that the test results showed my LCHF diet seems to be doing me more good than harm.
Then I heard something that gave me pause. It wasn’t about heart health or clogged arteries. It was about fatty livers.
I heard the claim in a podcast, the Tim Ferriss Show for May 12, 2017. Ferriss was interviewing Art De Vany.
De Vany is well-known figure in Paleo Diet circles, and he published a seminal Paleo book in 2011, The New Evolution Diet. I have a copy of the book. I bought it when Borders was going out of business, and it’s in my pile of books to read. That’s not a knock on the book. I’m not really into the Paleo lifestyle. (Read my essay on Mark Twain and exercise, and you’ll understand.)
De Vany came across in the interview as an active, intelligent, confident and strong individual. He had fun things to say about the proper frequency of meals, about exercise, and about the aging process. I believed a lot of it, or wanted to.
Then, about 55 minutes into the interview, De Vany said, and I quote, “If you want to have a fatty liver, you eat a lot of fat.”
I sat up when he said that. And a few minutes later, De Vany repeated the point when asked what he thought people in the Paleo movement got wrong. De Vany said “they eat too much fat” and that they were opening themselves up to developing fatty livers.
I was skeptical. The idea sounded familiar. You eat fat, so you get fat. You eat fat, so all your organs get fat. Fat begets fat — as if your body can’t make fat out of other things that you eat, like, for instance, carbohydrates.
De Vany wasn’t precise about how much fat a person has to eat, or for how long, to trigger this supposed disease process. But he did sound certain. He spoke with conviction and authority. He also admitted that he didn’t care much for eating fat, which if fine as a matter of personal preference. But his claims about developing a fatty liver from eating fat went beyond personal preference.
Although I was skeptical, I looked into his claim. From what I’ve read, it’s the consensus that the culprit in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease [NAFLD] is more likely to be excess dietary carbohydrates than excess dietary fat. It’s part of the metabolic syndrome.
I won’t go through the sources, but here are the links:
“Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.” Diseases and Conditions. Mayo Clinic. 2016.
“Noakes: It’s the fatty liver disease, stupid!” FoodMed.Net. 2016.
“Effects of dietary interventions on liver volume in humans.” PubMed. 2013.
“Short-term weight loss and hepatic triglyceride reduction: evidence of a metabolic advantage with dietary carbohydrate restriction.” PubMed. 2011.
“The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: a pilot study.” PubMed. 2007.
“Paleo for Liver Health.” Paleo Leap.
But since I’ve eaten a high-fat diet for many years, I also considered my own history. In addition to the lipids panel, I also have a comprehensive metabolic panel of blood tests done every year. This includes several tests of liver function: Albumin, Globulin, Bilirubin Total, Alkaline Phosphatase, AST, and ALT.
If these tests, or anything else, indicate that I have or might have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, my doctor hasn’t shared the diagnosis with me.
He has noted an elevated Bilirubin value on a couple of occasions. In fact, my Bilirubin number has always been toward the high end of the normal range. Apparently, my liver isn’t removing as much Bilirubin as it should. My doctor attributes this to an inherited syndrome. I remember Googling it at his suggestion. The syndrome didn’t sound like a problem, and, anyway, it’s caused by a gene, not diet.
Otherwise, the liver-related blood tests are unremarkable.
Of course, I’m just one person, and my personal health history proves nothing for the rest of you. The same is true for Art De Vany’s health history.
Just to be safe, I’ll knock on wood, but to date eating a low-carb, high-fat (LCHF) diet doesn’t seem to be clogging my arteries or fattening my liver.
(A version of this article was released as a podcast.)
Mark (@markonthe12) says
I’ve been subscribed to your blog for years. Like you, I have been successfully LCHF’ing for a relatively long time now (for me, about 7 years). About 4 or 5 years ago I simply got tired of all of the diet book/gurus out there. As you know, it’s simple. But simple doesn’t sustain a career or series of books. Guys like DeVaney, Wolf, Sisson, etc. etc. etc. etc. have a mostly good message in their work but because they have to consistently come up with a new angle in order to differentiate themselves from each other, or worse, to differentiate the “new” book from their previous book, they have to come up with some variation. Quite frankly, I don’t even listen or read any of these guys any more. It’s annoying….
Mark — Thanks for sticking with me, even while giving up on those other guys! I don’t mind bloggers etc. coming up with new angles on old info, or even just repeating themselves. But care should be taken to distinguish facts and opinions. Don’t state something as a fact when you know, or ought to know, that it is at best a shaky inference and at worst an opinion based on personal taste. That was my problem with DeVaney’s views on fat and fatty livers. Maybe he’s right and everyone else is wrong, but he should at least acknowledge the differences, and try to back up the big, potentially damaging claim with evidence. And if his evidence is only his personal experience, then say that. Jim