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Photo by Mark Lennihan/The Associated Press

Houston — The Laura and John Arnold Foundation (LJAF) today announced a $1 million grant to the Nutrition Science Initiative (NuSI) to support the first-ever controlled clinical trial that will help determine whether a sugar-free diet can reverse the effects of the country’s most prevalent obesity-related disease, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Nearly unheard of 15 years ago, NAFLD is now recognized as the most common form of liver disease in the Western world. Forty million adults in the United States and seven million children suffer from NAFLD, and the number of liver transplants for NAFLD patients has increased tenfold in the past decade. The disease, characterized by fat buildup in the liver, results in liver damage that is similar to that caused by heavy alcohol consumption. If left unchecked, NAFLD can progress to cirrhosis and eventually to irreversible damage that can cause liver failure and a deadly form of liver cancer.

The exact cause of NAFLD is unknown. However, there is compelling evidence which suggests that excessive sugar consumption — particularly consumption of sucrose and high fructose corn syrup, the type of sugar found in soda, sports drinks, and other processed foods — may be the primary trigger for the disease.

“If there is a direct link between sugar consumption and fatty liver disease, this study could yield the best insights on how to stop this epidemic from contributing to a generation that would be the first in centuries not to outlive their parents,” NuSI President and Co-Founder Peter Attia, M.D., explained.

Forty adolescents diagnosed with NAFLD will take part in the eight-week study. Half of the participants will be allowed to follow their regular diets, while the remaining participants will eat sugar-free foods. Meals and snacks will be provided to those on the no-sugar diet and their immediate families. Throughout the course of the study, participants will be closely monitored and researchers will track changes in liver fat content.

The NAFLD study is part of NuSI’s broader research agenda, which is focused on investigating the link between diet, obesity, and obesity-related diseases. In addition to NAFLD, these diseases include diabetes, heart disease, stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer. LJAF is the lead funder of NuSI and has committed more than $44 million in support of its pioneering nutrition research.

“NuSI has set out to do in less than 10 years what the National Institutes of Health has been unable to do in more than 60 years — determine what we should and should not eat to be healthy,” LJAF President Denis Calabrese explained. “Most of the existing nutrition research amounts to junk science. This NAFLD study and the other NuSI-funded clinical trials will be more rigorous than all of the nutrition research conducted to date. NuSI’s well-designed, high-quality studies will help to produce reliable scientific evidence that is urgently needed in order for us to understand the cause or causes of our nation’s obesity crisis and the steps we can take to improve our health.”

Public funding for NALFD research is only a small fraction of the amount allocated for heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, and prostate cancer despite the fact that more American adults have NAFLD than all of these other diseases.

In addition to LJAF’s support, funding for the NuSI NAFLD study is provided by author and entrepreneur Tim Ferriss, Robert G. and Sue Douthit O’Donnell, The Ambrose Monell Foundation, and other philanthropists.

About the Nutrition Science Initiative

Founded in September 2012, the mission of the Nutrition Science Initiative is to reduce the individual, social, and economic costs of obesity, diabetes, and their related diseases by improving the quality of science in nutrition and obesity research. By applying first-of-its-kind rigorous scientific experimentation on nutrition, NuSI seeks to communicate its findings to the public and decision-makers alike in an effort to significantly advance the quality of nutritional guidance, dietary recommendations, and policies. NuSI is supported by funding from private citizens and like-minded organizations. www.nusi.org.