Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, also known as NAFLD, is becoming increasingly common in the United States. Here are some things to know, whether you’ve been diagnosed yourself or care for someone who has.
- NAFLD occurs when fat is deposited in the liver for reasons other than alcohol use.
Fat deposits (called steatosis) cause the liver to enlarge, but that may not disrupt normal functions. Thus, some people with NAFLD have no symptoms.
- Symptoms of NAFLD include fatigue, general discomfort and abdominal discomfort.
Major symptoms may not appear until hepatic inflammation occurs, or scaring of the liver and cirrhosis develops, irreversibly damaging the tissue.
- Insulin resistance is a major cause of NAFLD.
Therefore, the prevalence of diabetes is higher in people with NAFLD. Additionally, up to 80 percent of obese people have NAFLD.
- About one-third of Americans have NAFLD.
Genetic variations called polymorphisms have been linked to the disease. Native American men and Hispanics have also been found to have a higher risk of developing the disease. However, the highest rate of the disease in in people ages 40 to 49.
- Children under age 18 are also at risk for developing NAFLD.
This disease can cause many complications during their developmental years, preventing them from having healthy, normal lives. It is the primary cause of liver disease in children, and boys are two times more likely to develop than girls. Weight loss is currently the only truly effective treatment for NAFLD in children.
- NAFLD may eventually progress to a more serious form of the disease.
Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) happens when liver cell damage is present in biopsies of liver tissue. Damage to the liver may progress and lead to cirrhosis. Because there is no cure, early diagnosis is very important.
- Treatments for NAFLD are a work in progress.
“Unfortunately, the treatments for fatty liver disease are poor at best” said Dr. Chaykin, an endocrinologist at Meridien Research. Because there is no cure, early diagnosis is very important. One promising drug therapy is the use of statins. Typically prescribed to decrease lipids, statins also provide anti-inflammatory properties, an independent effect of the drug. The efficacy of the statins used in low to moderate doses may override the concerns in liver toxicity.
- A healthy diet and exercise are the best ways to treat NAFLD.
People with NASH and NAFLD are encouraged to increase their exercise, if they are sedentary, and avoid alcohol or drugs harmful to the liver. In one study, 33% of the adolescent patients with NASH had diabetes or prediabetes. Changes in diet may address the influx of fat deposits to the liver.
Meridien Research often has NAFLD research studies enrolling. If you would like to be considered for a study or if you are a sponsor or CRO looking for a new site, please call 888-777-8839 for details.