There's a widely unknown condition lurking underneath excess belly fat. It's called fatty liver disease. Researchers estimate that up to one-third of people globally are affected. The trouble is, you cannot feel anything wrong until it's too late. For some people, it can cause liver damage, including liver cancer and the need for a transplant. You may have watched my video where I talk about some of the risk factors. Please watch it if you haven't already. In this article, I provide more facts about fatty liver disease so that you can stay healthy and avoid unnecessary medical complications.
Firstly, what does the liver do? The liver is the largest organ inside the human body. It stores energy, assists with digestion and helps process drugs and chemicals.
What is Fatty Liver Disease?
Fatty liver disease involves the build-up of fat inside the liver.
There are two types of fatty liver disease:
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD) is caused by regular excess consumption of alcohol. Approximately 90 per cent of heavy drinkers have this form of liver disease.1
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is linked to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. You can read more about metabolic syndrome here. People with non-alcoholic liver disease do not drink heavily; some don't drink any alcohol.
Risk Factors for Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
A variety of factors may increase an individual's risk of developing NAFLD, including:
- Obesity. Approximately 80 to 90 per cent of people who are obese have NAFLD.2 However, there are differences based on ethnicity. In people of Asian descent, the risk begins from a lower BMI (body mass index) than other ethnic backgrounds.2,3
- Diabetes. An estimated 65 per cent of people who have type 2 diabetes also have NAFLD.2
- Insulin resistance. The cells in the body are less responsive to insulin, so glucose lingers in the bloodstream. Not only does this increase the chances of developing diabetes, it also contributes to the buildup of fat in the liver.
- High levels of fat in the blood. A high cholesterol or triglyceride level is associated with an increased risk of fatty liver disease. About 20 to 80 percent of people with high levels of fat in the blood have a fatty liver and liver inflammation.4
- Gallbladder removal. A medical study of more than 12,000 patients found that those who had their gallbladders removed were more than twice as likely to have NAFLD than those who still had their gallbladders.5
Complications of Fatty Liver Disease
Some people don't develop any health problems because of fatty liver disease. However, others develop Non-Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH). This condition causes scarring of the liver and affects the liver's ability to function. It can also lead to liver cancer. Damage to the liver can be so severe that a liver transplant may be the best treatment option.
In fact, Fatty Liver Disease can cause issues outside of the liver, too. People with NAFLD are also more likely to develop heart disease than people without liver disease.
You Can Take Steps to Manage Your Risk of Fatty Liver Disease
You can see belly fat; you can't see a fatty liver. You usually can't feel it either – symptoms don't usually show up until after significant liver damage has already occurred. So, regular health check-ups and healthy lifestyle choices are essential.
If you are overweight, losing weight can decrease the fat in your liver and improve liver function. Eat a healthy diet; choose fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean meat over processed foods and those high in sugar.
Together, you and your healthcare provider can develop an individualised plan to decrease your risk of fatty liver disease and liver damage.
Let us know if you plan to see the doctor for a health check in the poll down below (on mobile) or in the side bar (on desktop).