Most people haven’t heard of it, but the likelihood of you or someone you know having it is great. Fatty liver disease, or to be specific, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is its name, and yes, it can be quite serious.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, is a progressive condition that develops in people who drink little to no alcohol. This disease, like many others, can start harmlessly enough. Usually, it starts with, like the name suggests, a fatty liver. However, when fat accumulates in liver cells too much, that is when the problems occur. NAFLD can progress over time to a more severe form called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is fatty liver accompanied by inflammation and death of liver cells. (Steato means fat and hepatitis means liver inflammation.)
About 15 percent of people with NAFLD will go on to develop irreversible advanced liver scarring called cirrhosis, which makes it difficult for the liver to carry out its essential tasks. NAFLD also increases the risk of developing heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes. So what causes it?
The most common cause for NAFLD is obesity, with an estimated 75 percent of those people designated as obese being at risk for developing the condition. Having diabetes, high blood cholesterol and high triglycerides (blood fats) also increase the likelihood of developing fatty liver disease. However, in some cases, there doesn’t appear to be a clear cause behind it.
Knowing as we do that obesity is a leading cause for NAFLD, it stands to reason that certain foods and improper diet can further lead to the development of the condition. According to Leslie Beck, a practicing dietician, “a diet that’s too high in fat contributes to excess fat stored in the liver. So does one that’s high in refined carbohydrates and sugars. Liver cells convert excess glucose – the sugar that’s absorbed into the bloodstream after digestion – into fat.
Fructose, in particular, is tied to fatty liver. Studies suggest that fructose consumption not only increases fat production in the liver, it also creates a metabolic environment that favors the development of NAFLD and NASH.”
In fact, a study published recently in the Journal of Hepatology found that, among 271 children and teenagers with fatty liver disease, fructose consumption was significantly higher in children who had NASH compared with simple fatty liver.
Beck goes on to say that “fructose is a simple sugar found naturally in fruits, some vegetables, honey, agave syrup and sucrose (table sugar). As high-fructose corn syrup (“glucose-fructose” on ingredient lists), it’s also present in many soft drinks, sweetened fruit drinks, breakfast cereals, baked goods, and condiments.”
With obesity rates on the rise, NAFLD is becoming a growing concern. If you think you think you might have NAFLD or are at a higher risk of developing it, we encourage you to visit your healthcare professional to discuss treatment options and the steps that can be taken to avoid an NAFLD diagnosis in the first place.