People who eat a lot of animal proteins found in meat may be more likely to accumulate fat in their liver, and to increase the risk of liver disease that relies on vegetables as a major source of protein, a Dutch study found.
The researchers focused on what is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is usually associated with obesity and some dietary habits.
While doctors recommend dietary changes to treat this type of liver disease, research has yet to show clearly whether these changes can prevent it.
During the current study, the researchers looked at data from dietary questionnaires and liver fat tests from 3,382 people aged 70 years on average. The tests showed 1337 participants or 34 percent of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, 132 of whom had a healthy weight and 1205 were overweight.
The analysis found that people who were overweight and had as much animal protein were 54 percent more likely to develop fatty liver disease than those who ate less meat.
"This does not take into account risk factors for non-alcoholic fatty liver, such as social factors, lifestyle and metabolic factors," said Dr. Sarwa Darwish Murad, a liver disease specialist at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
"Perhaps the most important thing is that there is no link to the amount of calories," she said by e-mail.
Participants who did not have fatty liver disease consumed an average of 2052 calories per day compared to 1996 calories for people with fatty liver, the researchers wrote in the journal Gastroenterology.
Most of the calories people get with fatty liver come from protein.