Effects of dietary interventions on liver volume in humans


  • Disclosure: The authors declare no conflict of interest.

  • Author contributions: HB: analysis of MRI data, statistical analyses and interpretation of the data, drafting the manuscript; AH: expertise on MRI analyses; NL: analysis of MRI images; HY: research design, analysis and interpretation of the data, drafting and critical revision of the manuscript, study supervision.



To compare effects of similar weight loss induced either by a short-term low-carbohydrate or by a long-term hypocaloric diet, and to determine effects of high carbohydrate overfeeding on liver total, lean, and fat volumes.


Liver total, lean, and fat volumes were measured before and after (i) a 6-day low-carbohydrate diet (n = 17), (ii) a 7-month standard hypocaloric diet (n = 26), and (iii) a 3-week high-carbohydrate diet (n = 17), by combining magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy (1H-MRS) techniques.


At baseline, three groups were comparable with respect to age, body mass index, liver volumes and the liver fat content. Body weight decreased similarly by the short-term and long-term hypocaloric diets. Liver total volume decreased significantly more during the short-term low-carbohydrate (−22 ± 2%) than the long-term (−7 ± 2%) hypocaloric diet (P < 0.001). This was due to a greater decrease in liver lean volume in the short-term (−20 ± 2%) than the long-term (−4 ± 2%) weight loss group (P < 0.001). Decreases in liver fat were comparable. Liver volume increased by 9 ± 3% due to overfeeding (P< 0.02 for before vs. after).


These data support the use of a short-term low-carbohydrate diet whenever a reduction in liver volume is desirable. Overeating carbohydrate is harmful because it increases liver volume.