Broccoli Compound Indole may Prevent or Treat Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

Indole Found in Broccoli may Prevent or Treat NAFLD

According to a new study by researchers at Texas A&M AgriLife Research, a compound found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables may be able to prevent or treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Indole, a natural compound found in broccoli and other cruciferous vegetables  may help to prevent or treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Indole was also found in gut bacteria. Dr. Chaodong Wu, M.D., Ph.D., a Texas A&M AgriLife Research Faculty Fellow was the principal investigator for the study that was published January 17, 2020 in Hepatology.

Study was with People, Animals and Individual Cells

Study with People

The researchers studied the effects of indole on 137 Chinese people with fatty livers.


  • People who had a higher body mass index (BMI) showed a tendency for lower blood levels of indole.
  • People who had clinical obesity had significantly lower levels of indole than people of lean weight.
  • Those that had lower blood levels of indole had a higher amount of fat in their livers.

Animal Study

The researchers also carried out a study on animals with fatty livers, some of whom were fed a low-fat diet and some of whom were fed a high-fat diet. Treating the animals with indole significantly reduced fat and inflammation in their livers.

Study on Individual Cells in the Gut and Liver

Indole was also found to act on cells in the intestine and this helps to prevent inflammation. More research is needed to understand how indole affects both the gut and the liver.

Nutritional Approach may be Way to Prevent NAFLD

A nutritional approach using foods found high in indole or medicines that can mimic indole’s effects may be the way to prevent or treat NAFLD.

Sulforaphane in Broccoli may also Prevent Osteoarthritis, Cancer and Obesity

See our blog post from February 22, 2018 about how sulforaphane in broccoli may prevent osteoarthritis, cancer and obesity.

Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

According to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is a when excess fat is built up in the liver.

Two Types of Non-alcoholic Fatty liver Disease

There are two types of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease:

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver (NAFL)

Simple fatty liver which is also called non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) is a condition where the liver is fatty, but there is no inflammation or damage to liver cells. This simple type is one of the most common forms of liver disease in the United States and does not usually progress to liver damage or complications. It is estimated that between 30-40% of adults in the United States have NAFL.

Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)

Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is when a fatty liver also has hepatitis, which is inflammation of the liver with damage to liver cells. This can lead to fibrosis or scarring of the liver and may also lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer. Cirrhosis can lead to liver failure and the need for a liver transplant. About 3-12% of American adults have NASH. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), chronic liver diseases and cirrhosis are the 11th leading cause of death in the United States.

Risk Factors for NAFLD

  • Obesity – NAFLD is found in 30-90% of people who are obese.
  • Type 2 Diabetes – NAFLD is found in 40-80% of people with type 2 diabetes.
  • Aging raises the risk even though NAFLD can affect people of all ages including children.
  • High blood levels of cholesterol or triglycerides
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Genes
  • Certain kinds of medicines
  • Certain kinds of infections like hepatitis C
  • Exposure to toxins
  • People who had their gallbladders removed.

Treatment for NAFLD and NASH

Currently there is no medicinal drug that can treat NAFLD or NASH. The main way to reduce fat stored in the liver is to lose weight and to get more physical exercise. Not only can losing weight reduce fat in the liver, but it can also reduce inflammation, fibrosis and scarring. According to the NIDDK, losing 3-5% of your body weight can reduce liver fat. However, to reduce inflammation in the liver it may be necessary to lose up to 10% of your body weight. Doctors recommend losing 7% or more of your body weight gradually over a year. Losing weight rapidly, especially fasting, can actually make NAFLD worse.

Research Shows that People with NAFLD have a Higher Risk for Developing Cardiovascular Disease

Cardiovascular disease that can lead to heart attacks or stroke are the most common cause of death in people who have NAFLD or NASH.

Chronic Liver Diseases can Lead to the Need for Long-term Skilled Nursing Care

People who suffer from chronic liver diseases like cirrhosis or cancer of the liver may need long-term skilled nursing care. The Van Duyn Center for Rehabilitation and Nursing in Syracuse, New York offers expert rehabilitative and nursing care that is tailored to the needs of each resident. Van Duyn also has fine dining with a healthy and nutritious cuisine.


Since even simple fatty liver disease is a high risk for cardiovascular events like a heart attack or stroke, it will be good if a prevention or treatment for NAFLD can be derived from indole found in cruciferous vegetables like broccoli and cabbage.

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