Fatty Liver Disease and Obesity

It’s well known that obesity increases the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke. It’s less widely known that obesity can also lead to a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. In fact, as obesity in America rises, fatty liver disease has become the most common cause of liver disease and is estimated to affect up to a third of the US population.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when fat accumulates in liver cells. In the early stages of the disease, there is only fat accumulation. There are usually no symptoms at this point, and the liver remains somewhat healthy, although elevated liver enzymes may show up on a blood test.

If the disease progresses, patients may develop liver inflammation, which can lead to decreased liver function and scarring. At this stage, you may notice symptoms such as excessive fatigue and vague abdominal discomfort.

As many as 20 percent of sufferers will have the disease progress to the point of cirrhosis of the liver. In those cases, the damage to the liver is irreversible and a liver transplant may be necessary.

How does obesity cause fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver disease in people who are obese or suffering from diabetes seems to be related to insulin resistance. It is believed that the insulin resistance creates an inflammatory state that damages the liver. This complication can be prevented or reversed in its early stages by addressing the underlying problem of insulin resistance. In most cases, that includes losing weight and switching to a low glycemic diet that helps to control insulin and blood sugar levels.

As with any liver disorder, it’s crucial to catch the signs of fatty liver disease early before permanent damage is done. If you’re overweight or have diabetes, you should have your liver enzymes tested every six months to catch the earliest warning signs.