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Exercise and fat accumulation in the human liver

Magkos, Faidona,b

doi: 10.1097/MOL.0b013e32833ea912
Therapy and clinical trials: Edited by Anton F. Stalenhoef and John J.P. Kastelein

Purpose of review Fat accumulation in the liver is strongly associated with metabolic dysfunction. Regular exercise improves many cardiometabolic risks factors; however, its effect on intrahepatic triglyceride (IHTG) content remains elusive. This article summarizes available data regarding the effects of exercise on IHTG.

Recent findings Several but not all observational studies report negative associations of habitual physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness with IHTG and the prevalence of fatty liver. Aerobic exercise training in combination with hypocaloric diet reduces IHTG by a considerable amount (20–60%), even when weight loss is mild (<5%); hence weight loss per se may not be a critical factor. Longitudinal studies involving exercise training without dietary restriction and no weight loss demonstrate that increased cardiorespiratory fitness and reduced intra-abdominal adiposity are not invariably associated with liver fat depletion, whereas relatively large exercise-induced reductions in IHTG content (20–40%) can occur even in the absence of changes in body weight, body composition, or visceral adipose tissue. Although the majority of studies have examined aerobic training, resistance exercise has also been shown to be inversely associated with the prevalence of fatty liver in humans and effectively reduces IHTG content in animals.

Summary Exercise does hold promise as an effective treatment for hepatic steatosis; this field of research is still in its infancy, and there is much more to be learned.

aDivision of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, USA

bDepartment of Nutrition and Dietetics, Harokopio University, Athens, Greece

Correspondence to Faidon Magkos, PhD, Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC), Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, 330 Brookline Avenue - Feldberg 869, Boston, MA 02215, USA Tel: +1 617 667 7118; fax: +1 617 667 8634; e-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.