People who eat a lot of animal protein in meat can be more likely to accumulate fat in the liver and increase the risk of liver diseases that rely on vegetables as the main source of protein, according to a Dutch study.
The researchers focused on what is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is usually associated with obesity and some eating habits.
While doctors recommend dietary changes to treat this type of liver disease, the research has yet to show clearly whether these changes can prevent it.
During the present study, the researchers examined data from dietary questionnaires and liver fat testing from 3,382 people with an average age of 70 years. The tests showed 1337 participants or 34% 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 more animal proteins were 54% more likely to develop a 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, liver disease specialist at the Erasmus University Medical Center in Rotterdam, in the Netherlands.
"Perhaps the most important thing is that there is no connection with the amount of calories," he said by e-mail.
Participants who did not have a fatty liver disease consumed an average of 2052 calories a day compared to the 1996 calories for people with fatty liver, the researchers wrote in the journal Gastroenterology.
Most of the calories that people take with fatty liver come from protein.