- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) refers to a range of liver conditions caused by excess fat stored in the liver.
- It affects about 25 percent of Canada’s population and is also the world’s leading cause of chronic liver disease.
- NAFLD may lead to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), its most advanced stage, eventually progressing to cirrhosis or liver scarring.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) refers to a group of liver conditions affecting people who drink little to no alcohol. NAFLD is mainly characterized by too much fat stored in the liver. It is the leading liver disorder in Canada, affecting 20 to 25 percent of its population, and is also the top form of chronic liver disease worldwide, says gastroenterologist Dr. Harmeet Malhi of Mayo Clinic.
Some people with NAFLD can develop nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which may progress to advanced scarring (cirrhosis) or liver cancer, incidences of which are rising in Canada.
NAFLD usually exhibits no physical symptoms. But if you have any of the risk factors below, it’s best to see your doctor. Doctors may require blood tests, an abdominal ultrasound scan or a liver biopsy, to diagnose the condition.
WHILE RESEARCH HASN’T IDENTIFIED THE EXACT CAUSE OF NFLAD, FACTORS THAT CAN INCREASE YOUR CHANCES OF DEVELOPING FATTY LIVER DISEASE ARE GREATER IF YOU:
1. Binge eat frequently
Bingeing on sweets causes the excess sugar-rich calories to add to the fat that is already building up in the liver, leading to a host of health issues.
Dr. Rohit Loomba, director of the NAFLD Research Center at the University of California at San Diego, recommends keeping a food journal to keep track of your daily sugar and fat intake.
2. Have a high level of belly fat
Obesity increases NAFLD risks. Visceral fat, or the fat that is wrapped around your abdominal cavity that gives a big tummy, is associated with liver fat particularly among the middle-aged and younger adults, explains Dr. Loomba. “As the body mass index goes up and people go from a BMI of 30 to 35 to 40, the prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease starts going up,” he says.
3. Have high cholesterol levels
High blood fat levels, either triglycerides or LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, may be a sign that there’s too much fat in your liver. Your liver makes all the cholesterol your body needs which are carried in the bloodstream. However, it elevates cholesterol levels and releases more fat when we eat foods rich in saturated and trans-fats.
4. Have diabetes
With diabetes, getting tested for NAFLD should be a major medical priority, says Dr. Loomba. Based on the MRI scans of the livers of 100 type 2 diabetics, 65 percent were found to have had NAFLD at one point without knowing it.
5. Have hypertension
People with NAFLD had three times higher chances of having hypertension than those without the disease, according to a German study. If you suspect that you may have liver disease, keep your blood pressure levels in check and maintain a healthy heart. Dr. Malhi cautions that heart issues are the top cause of death in people with NAFLD.
6. Have a family history of fatty liver disease
Evidence from an ongoing familial study being conducted by Dr. Loomba and his team on 25 families with a history of NASH cirrhosis showed that this advanced stage of NAFLD is 13 times more likely to develop if a family member had the disease. Other studies also indicate that some people may be genetically susceptible to this health risk.
7. Often feel tired
Most people with NAFLD have no physical symptoms but once it progresses to cirrhosis, you may start experiencing common symptoms like fatigue and weakness. See your doctor immediately if you develop these symptoms together with any of the previously mentioned risk factors.
8. Experience pain in the upper right abdomen
Abdominal pain is a symptom that appears only when cirrhosis begins. Loss of appetite is another stomach issue that results from cirrhosis.
9. Experience confusion
Since the liver isn’t metabolizing properly, the toxins it typically expels can get to the brain. Seek immediate medical help if you become disoriented because confusion can signal more serious liver problems.
Via Reader’s Digest