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The skinny on fatty liver disease

Fatty liver disease is a growing problem.

Your liver is your largest internal organ and your body’s workhorse. Among its many jobs are converting food into fuel, processing fat from your blood, clearing harmful toxins, and making proteins that help your blood clot. Yet this hard-working, supersized organ is susceptible to a dangerous and often hard-to-diagnose condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD.

NAFLD is defined as the presence of fat in more than 5% of liver cells. It is the most common liver disease and affects up to 25% of American adults, 60% of whom are men.

The disease raises your risk of heart disease and left untreated, NAFLD also can lead to an inflamed liver, a condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). In fact, as many as 40% of people with NAFLD develop NASH. NASH can lead to scarring of the liver; severe scarring, called cirrhosis, increases your risk of liver cancer.

A growing problem

Although drinking too much alcohol can cause fat buildup in the liver, NAFLD affects people who consume little or no alcohol. Instead, the main culprit is excess weight — which causes extra fat to get stored in the liver — and is associated with dyslipidemia (abnormally high LDL cholesterol levels, low HDL levels, or both), high blood pressure, and diabetes.

As the number of overweight people has increased, so too has the prevalence of NAFLD. “Much of this can be attributed to a regular diet of more processed foods and high amounts of carbohydrates, along with more sedentary lifestyles,” says Dr. Kathleen Corey, director of the Fatty Liver Disease Clinic at Harvard-affiliated Massachusetts General Hospital. Yet, she adds that some people with fatty livers have none of these risk factors, which suggests that genes can play an important role.

Hard to detect

NAFLD is difficult to spot as it often has no symptoms. However, NAFLD is sometimes associated with fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, nausea, weight loss, and abdominal pain.

NAFLD is suspected when a blood test reveals elevated liver enzymes. Usually doctors can make the diagnosis after ruling out other causes, such as viral or drug-induced hepatitis. However, a definite diagnosis requires a liver biopsy — an outpatient procedure in which a needle is inserted into the right side of the abdomen to extract a small piece of liver tissue.

While currently no drug treatment is available, it’s possible to stop further liver damage and maybe even reverse NAFLD’s effects if you start early enough. “Treating NAFLD focuses on reducing or preventing further fatty buildup in the liver by addressing the underlying causes — obesity, diabetes, and elevated blood lipids,” says Dr. Corey. The best way to do that is by weight loss using the two major means for achieving health: exercise and diet.

Read full article: The skinny on fatty liver disease – Harvard Health

Read Full Article: The skinny on fatty liver disease – Harvard Health

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