What is fatty liver disease and why is it rising around the world

2023-06-17 19:47:11
What is fatty liver disease and why is it rising around the world

The rates of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease — which can lead to life-threatening conditions, including cirrhosis and cancer of the organ — have been soaring around the world.

“More and more people are getting extra fat in their livers,” said co-author Dr. Theodore Friedman, an endocrinologist and professor of medicine at both the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science and the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine.

Friedman told NBC News that people must steer clear of junk foods and overly processed foods and cut back on carbs. “It’s a disease that develops because people are eating poorly and not exercising,” he said. “I always tell patients to eat more vegetables.”

Certain genes and metabolic disorders — such as obesity, diabetes, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol — are known to raise the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a leading cause of liver transplantation.

Having an apple shape rather than a pear is also linked to the disease, experts say.

Most people with fatty liver disease don’t know they have the condition, which is called a “silent disease” because it has few or no symptoms. People who do have symptoms may feel fatigued or discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common cause of liver disease in the U.S., according to the National Institutes of Health.

“Because it’s so common in people with diabetes and obesity, doctors should be looking for it in people with those conditions,” Friedman said.

There's no medication approved to treat it, but fatty liver disease can be reversed.

“People who exercise and lose a lot of weight can revert to normal,” Friedman said.

If NAFLD continues unabated, it can turn into nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which leads to cell damage and inflammation of the liver and eventually cirrhosis.

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