Project results on dietary fats, gut microbiota and NAFLD

Obesity is one of the main drivers of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), through mechanisms involving the gut microbiota. Also, excessive intake of fats, saturated (unhealthy) fats in particular, can increase the risk of developing NAFLD. However, it remains unknown how the interaction between dietary fats and the gut microbiota can cause this disease.

JPI HDHL funded the FATMAL (Identification of the molecular interplay between dietary fatty acids and gut microbiota in Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease) project, that ran between 2018 and 2022, to further investigate the relation between dietary fats, gut microbiota and NAFLD. The project was cofunded by the European Commission within the HDHL-INTIMIC cofunded call. Researchers from France, Sweden and Italy were involved in the project. 


The general aim of the FATMAL project was to identify interactions between dietary fat and gut microbiota for the control of fatty liver disease. More specifically, the project aimed to understand if the gut microbiota from patients with low vs high NAFLD scores are affected or process dietary fatty acids differently and whether this could play a role in the development of the disease. The researchers studied the impact of different fat-enriched diets on multiple outcomes such as microbiota composition and fat metabolism. This was investigated using original and complementary models of genetically modified mice and germ-free mice colonized with human microbiota.


The researchers discovered that the composition of saturated fats in a person's diet affect the composition of gut bacteria and this in turn impacts the liver and overall metabolic health. They also found that high levels of certain long-chained saturated fatty acids in the intestine are linked to changes in gut bacteria that lead to metabolic problems. The project identified a list of bacteria that are protective against the harmful impact of unhealthy saturated fats in overall diets. These bacteria were found to play a causal role in the regulation of fat accumulation in the liver in response to different diets. Novel probiotics could be derived from this knowledge.

Overall, the FATMAL project has contributed to the further understanding of the molecular crosstalk between gut microbiota and dietary fat, which could help predict numerous disease outcomes. The knowledge generated in this project will, in the long term, help prevent and in some instances treat fatty liver disease. Since dietary fat is associated with metabolic and in some cases also with cardiovascular diseases the findings could help designing approaches to control these issues.

In total, 11 projects were funded within the HDHL-INTIMIC cofunded call. In the coming weeks, the results of these projects will be shared on our website. Stay tuned!

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