Epidemic liver disease in the regions
New figures suggest Australia is making its way into an epidemic of liver disease – with nearly half of the region’s people over 60 affected.
The epidemic has been spreading quietly for at least 30 years – and yet the extent of the problem is not fully known.
Alcohol is not the main driver. Viral hepatitis either, fortunately on the decline.
Instead, âmetabolic factorsâ – notably obesity and diabetes – are to blame.
In other words, Australia’s persistent unhealthy diet and lack of exercise is catching up with us in the form of non-alcoholic liver disease (NAFLD) – a condition that often goes undiagnosed and is l ‘one of the main causes of cirrhosis (scarring) and primary liver. Cancer.
New research lifts the veil
In a one-of-a-kind study, researchers in Melbourne looked at the prevalence of liver disease in a number of regional communities.
They found that at least 36% of regional Victorians live with NAFLD – with 45% of people over 60 affected.
The study involved more than 700 people from the Goulburn Valley.
The numbers were based on their position on the Fatty Liver Index, which uses pathology data combined with body mass index (BMI) and other measures.
These results suggest that we have seriously underestimated the prevalence of NAFLD, which is thought to have affected 20 to 30 percent of the population, or about 5.5 million Australians.
Professor Stuart Roberts, senior author and chief of hepatology and consultant gastroenterologist at Alfred Hospital, said: â.
He said the study shows that rates in regional communities “are
cause for concern, and more research is needed to uncover the prevalence of the disease in metropolitan areas, which may be higher than current estimates â.
Data from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare provides a clue.
Trend supported by independent research
In 2017-2018, 71% of people living in regional areas were overweight or obese, according to the AIHW.
This compares to 65 percent in major cities.
Last year, Professor Roberts co-authored an article that predicted that annual liver deaths from NAFLD could nearly double over the next decade, from 1,900 in 2019 to 3,500 deaths in 2030.
A total of 30,000 deaths from NAFLD are expected over the next 10 years. And they are pretty much all preventable.
The rising trends in obesity and diabetes in Australia have paralleled the emergence of liver cancer as the fastest growing cause of cancer-related deaths in the country for the past 30 years.
A 2013 article found that primary liver cancer was the only malignant tumor to show a significant increase in death rate between 1991 and 2010.
Excessive alcohol consumption and viral hepatitis have long been considered the two main contributors to primary liver cancer, but as the 2013 article observed, NAFLD was increasingly to blame.
A tipping point that could be avoided
NAFLD is the most common form of chronic liver disease caused by a buildup of fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol.
It is largely asymptomatic, but some people will experience fatigue and experience pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen.
Age, obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes are risk factors, but it’s reversible with eating a healthy diet and exercising.
But few of us take this self-healing path.
Richard Wylie, CEO of the Liver Foundation, said: âIn some ways we have become complacent about the trajectory of obesity-related diseases such as cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but fatty liver disease and its direct links to cirrhosis and liver cancer just might be the tipping point the community needs to start taking their overall lifestyle more seriously â.
The new daily has reported a number of lifestyle and diet changes that may be helpful in avoiding or reversing NAFLD.
See here and here. Going for a regular walk is one of your best options.