Unfortunately, up to a third of Americans are affected by nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which may be related with the increase in obesity in America. Children 18 and younger are especially at-risk. This disease can cause many complications during their developmental years, preventing them from having healthy, normal lives.
All individuals with NAFLD may develop atherosclerosis, other cardiovascular diseases, and insulin resistance. The prevalence of diabetes is higher in adults with NAFLD. Yet, not everyone with NAFLD is obese or has diabetes. According to the National Institute of Health, there are several possible causes of NAFLD:
- Insulin resistance
- Release of toxins by fat cells (cytokines)
- Oxidative stress
Much like chronic kidney disease, NAFLD sufferers have few or no symptoms of the disease. Fat deposits in the liver cause it to enlarge, but may not disrupt normal function. Major symptoms may not appear until hepatic inflammation occurs, or scaring of the liver and cirrhosis develops, irreversibly damaging the tissue.
Treatments and Research
“Unfortunately, the treatments for fatty liver disease are poor at best” said Dr. Louis B. Chaykin, an endocrinologist and principal investigator at Meridien Research in Bradenton, Florida. People with Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) may progress to the more life threatening Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH), where 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.
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. Also, people with NASH are encouraged to increase their exercise, if they are sedentary, and avoid alcohol or drugs harmful to the liver. These actions by the patient will also reduce the risks for other conditions.
A promising direction for treatment of NASH comes from one of the older drugs used to treat diabetes, called pioglitazone. While also treating for diabetes, pioglitazone may reduce liver cell injury and fibrosis or scaring in patients with NASH. In several studies, patient MRI scans and biopsies have shown a reduction in liver damage while on pioglitazone.
Another promising drug therapy is the use of statins to treat NAFLD. 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.
The direction for treatment of NAFLD begins with diet, weight reduction, and exercise in order to decrease total calories. From this foundation of healthier eating and less sedentary lifestyles, patients may benefit from several drug therapies that slow the progression of hepatocellular injury.
Meridien Research frequently has NAFLD or NASH research studies open. Contact your nearest clinic for complete details at 888-777-8839 or visit our studies in the menu above.