Fatty Liver Disease Not Caused by Alcohol Is Common — and Often Missed
Nearly one in four adults worldwide have an abnormal buildup of fat in their liver, which puts them at higher risk for heart disease, according to a new scientific report that further encourages screening for the disease.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, a condition that can also lead to permanent liver damage, according to the American Heart Association’s scientific statement published in the journal Thursday. Arteriosclerosis, thrombosis and vascular biology.
Although common, NAFLD is often hidden or missed in routine medical care, the statement’s editorial chairman, Dr. P. Barton Duell, said in a press release. He is a professor of medicine in the division of endocrinology, diabetes, and clinical nutrition at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. “Knowing about the disease and treating it early is important because it is a risk factor for chronic liver damage and cardiovascular disease.”
NAFLD is similar to a type of liver disease caused by alcohol consumption. Most people may not know they have it because doctors don’t routinely check for it and it can develop without symptoms until it reaches an advanced stage when liver damage occur. Most patients do not reach this stage, which includes complications such as liver cancer, cirrhosis, inflammation and scarring of the liver, a condition called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
NAFLD shares many of the same risk factors for heart disease: high triglyceride levels, excess abdominal fat and obesity, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. However, people with NAFLD are at even higher risk of heart disease than people who have these risk factors and do not have fatty liver disease.
The statement calls for better awareness and monitoring of NAFLD, improved screening tools and treatments. It also highlights lifestyle behaviors that can help prevent it, such as controlling type 2 diabetes and triglyceride levels.
“Some of the good news about managing NAFLD is that healthy eating, regular exercise, and weight loss or prevention of weight gain are all valuable interventions for improving the health of most people. between us whether or not we have NAFLD,” Duell said.
The statement encourages those at risk of NAFLD to consult a dietitian to help them maintain healthy eating habits, such as the Mediterranean diet which emphasizes fiber-rich vegetables and whole grains. Losing between 5% and 10% of body weight can significantly reduce the risk. Exercising 20 to 30 minutes a day can also help, even if you don’t lose weight. Alcohol consumption is not recommended for people with NAFLD, as even small amounts can worsen the condition and interfere with the liver’s ability to heal.
However, genetics also play a role and a healthy lifestyle cannot always prevent disease.
At the other end of the spectrum, Duell said, “some people may have a genetic makeup that protects them from developing NAFLD despite obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, poor dietary habits, or physical inactivity. “.
NAFLD can be detected using a specialized ultrasound test that measures liver elasticity, fat, and liver stiffness, a result of scarring. A more invasive and expensive liver biopsy is the definitive test used to detect more advanced stages of the disease.
“Lack of awareness of the high prevalence of NAFLD contributes to underdiagnosis,” Duell said. “People with risk factors for NAFLD warrant more careful screening.”
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