Updated on 05/27/2022 at 11:34 a.m.
- One in four people worldwide suffer from fatty liver disease.
- An unhealthy diet is often to blame. Result: too much stored fat impairs the vital functions of the liver.
- An expert offers tips for recognizing and treating the underappreciated prevalent disease.
One in four people worldwide suffer from fatty liver disease. This is the conclusion of the American Heart Association. In Germany, around 27% of the population has fatty liver disease, and the trend is rising. The reason: More and more people are overweight. Anyone who suffers from an overly fatty liver should expect a wide variety of health consequences.
Who is affected by fatty liver disease?
On the one hand, relatively harmless fatty deposits in the liver can become inflamed: in three to five percent of cases, nutrition-related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) develops into fatty liver inflammatory hepatitis (NASH). This leads to liver cancer in ten to twenty percent of patients.
On the other hand, patients with fatty liver disease suffer more from cardiovascular diseases. These can lead to a heart attack and are the leading cause of death in people with fatty liver disease.
What age groups are affected?
Fatty liver disease tends to affect people between the ages of 55 and 75 in particular. But more and more overweight young children are also suffering from it.
“The phenomenon of fatty liver disease is a western prosperity problem that does not only affect adults. Unfortunately, we are currently seeing the greatest increase in the group of children. They then develop liver damage earlier. It starts with the ‘obesity at an early age, and later the increase in cases of fatty liver disease is measurable,’ explains Prof. Dr. Andreas Geier, who heads the Liver Center at University Hospital Würzburg, in conversation with our editors .
How does foie gras become noticeable?
Symptoms of fatty liver disease are very non-specific. It is difficult to identify at first with clear symptoms and can therefore go unnoticed for a long time. Liver expert Prof. Dr. Andreas Geier reports: “Affected persons sometimes feel pressure in the upper right abdomen or generally feel weak. But this could also be a sign of many other diseases. The fact that there are no symptoms clear makes early detection difficult.”
Late signs, on the other hand, are a marked drop in day-to-day performance and yellow eyes.
What does good preventative care look like?
To prevent liver inflammation and scarring, experts recommend regular ultrasound exams by your family doctor. A clearly enlarged, swollen and lighter organ and altered edges indicate an overly fatty liver. Regular monitoring of liver values also helps. In case of inflammation of the liver or already measurable scarring, regular ultrasound examinations are recommended.
What are the causes of fatty liver disease?
If you eat too much fat and sugar and exercise too little, you cause a fatty liver. This can be dangerous because the liver is the powerhouse of the body and centrally controls our metabolism. Life is not possible without an intact liver.
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Besides the quantity, the quality of the food also plays a role. Saturated fats in particular, such as those found in many animal foods such as butter, whipped cream, lard, meat and sausages, make liver fatty. This also applies to short-chain sugar, which can be found, for example, in white bread, confectionery, fruit juices, lemonade, beer and dairy products.
“Most of the time, eating too much fat is to blame. Hereditary causes are less common, especially in people of normal weight with a fatty liver. Genes promote fat storage in the liver,” says Prof. Dr. Andreas Geier from the University Hospital of Würzburg.
What does therapy and especially prevention look like?
Being and staying healthy is not difficult in itself: good nutrition and frequent physical activity are crucial success factors. For people who are overweight and therefore often suffer from fatty liver disease, weight loss is the top priority. Anyone who loses five to ten percent of their weight has a good chance of recovering.
There is no “too late”, the liver specialist knows: “It is important that fat disappears from the liver. Any form of weight loss also leads to a decrease in liver fat. Even if the liver has already become inflamed, “By losing weight, the inflammation can be stopped and the scars can disappear. Unfortunately, only about 20 percent of those affected achieve long-term weight loss, and many are unable to make lasting lifestyle changes.”
Read also : ‘Epidemic proportions’: Majority of adults in Europe are overweight
What are the consequences of fatty liver disease?
Experts estimate that fatty liver disease could lead to more heart attacks, liver cirrhosis and liver cancer diagnoses by 2030. “We therefore assume that in the future even more liver transplants may be needed than today. Since fewer organs have been donated in recent years, this may become more and more of a problem for those affected and for doctors,” says Prof. Dr. Andreas Geier the situation.
However, it is not yet known when a drug that will save these “five to twelve” patients will hit the market. Although a lot of research and testing has already been done, there is no immediate cure for fatty liver disease to date. However, medications taken by NAFLD patients with concurrent diabetes or dyslipidemia still contribute to the progressive improvement of fatty liver disease.
About the Expert:
- Conversation with Prof. Dr Andrew Geier
- American Heart Association: About 1 in 4 adults have often-missed liver disorder linked to higher risk of heart disease
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