Icariin can improve fatty acid oxidation and reduce the accumulation of lipids in the liver, according to a new study published in the journal Molecules. It does so by enhancing fatty acid oxidation molecules such as carnitine palmitoyltransferase 1 (CPT1), and long-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase (LCAD), among others.

CPT1 is one of 6 enzymes, the deficiency of which can cause long-chain fatty-acid oxidation disorder (LCFAOD). 

Read more about the etiology of LCFAOD

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The present study demonstrated that Icariin reduced the production of fatty acids by the liver as well as their build-up. 

For the study, a team of researchers from China led by Jianwei Wang from the Traditional Chinese Medicine Key Laboratory in Chongqing for Prevention and Cure of Metabolic Diseases and the College of Traditional Chinese Medicine, Chongqing Medical University, first developed a rat model of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease by treating the animals with a high-fat diet and letrozole for 21 days. They then treated the animals with icariin for 28 days. 

They found that icariin reduced excess levels of testosterone, estradiol, luteinizing hormone, follicle-stimulating hormone, insulin, triglycerides, and aspartate aminotransferase in the serum of the animals. It also improved fatty liver induced by the high-fat diet and letrozole treatment. 

The results also showed that icariin treatment up-regulated the expression of fatty acid translocase and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor α. This, in turn, led to the enhancement of fatty acid oxidation molecules, including cytochrome P450, family 4, subfamily a, polypeptide 3, CPT1, acyl-CoA oxidase 1, medium-chain acyl-CoA dehydrogenase, LCAD.

Finally, it reduced lipid synthesis, which activated stearoyl-CoeA desaturase 1, fatty acid synthase, and acetyl-CoA. 

“Icariin showed an ameliorative effect on hepatic steatosis . . . which was associated with improved fatty acid oxidation and reduced lipid accumulation in the liver,” the authors of the study concluded.

Icariin is the main component of the Chinese herb epimedium, which is known for its medicinal properties in treating metabolic disorders.


Hai Y, Zuo L, Wang M, et al. Icariin alleviates nonalcoholic fatty liver disease in polycystic ovary syndrome by improving liver fatty acid oxidation and inhibiting lipid accumulation. Molecules. Published online January 5, 2023. doi:10.3390/molecules28020517