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Fatty Liver Disease: Do I really need to worry?

 

     Almost half the adult population of the United States is obese. We all know the effect that obesity has on our blood pressure and its correlation with diabetes. However, what most people don’ t know is that the obesity epidemic is leading to the most common cause of liver disease in North America; Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. The progression to this point begins with something you have likely heard or even been diagnosed with, “non-alcoholic fatty liver disease” (NAFLD).

Many of us have been given “fatty liver disease” as a diagnosis and been encouraged to lose weight, but little to nothing else was done about it. Most people are asymptomatic, aware that they should shed a few pounds, but fall short of lifestyle interventions. Often, the provider that gave the diagnosis won’t want to see you again for 6 months to a year. With follow up like that, how bad can it actually be?

Turns out, the consequences can be quite severe. Studies from just this year and published in Internal Medicine News state that “Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis may soon supplant chronic hepatitis C as the leading cause of hepatocellular carcinoma among patients awaiting liver transplantation”.

Let’s back up a minute and start from the beginning. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is when there is an accumulation of fat in the liver. The liver tends to be enlarged but the person remains asymptomatic. If nothing changes in the person’s lifestyle fatty liver disease progresses to Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH).

NASH can progress from NAFLD when the liver starts to become inflamed. The cells of the liver are being damaged. Blood work may show elevated liver function studies and for some people this is the first clue they have that something is wrong. NASH is more severe than NAFLD as there are structural changes and scarring may form, leading to liver cirrhosis, liver failure and possible carcinoma.

There is good news. NASH and its complications are totally preventable. Dietary interventions and lifestyle changes can stop the progression of fatty liver disease before it progresses to a point where permanent structural changes take place. A bonus to improving your liver health will be that you will improve your over all health. NASH usually accompanies the trifecta of obesity, hypertension and diabetes; all responsive to healthy changes.

There is only one you. It’s time to take your health seriously and have a discussion with your provider regarding how you can reach your peak health. If you don’t have a provider willing to sit down and speak with you on how to achieve this…well…then I suggest you find a new provider (or come to Action Medicine!).

  • Brooke Rieth NP
  • Dr. Mike

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