February 01, 2015

Nonalcoholic fatty liver

The new face of metabolic syndrome

Nonalcoholic fatty liver

High blood pressure, increased blood sugar, belly fat, abnormal cholesterol levels — these are all components of metabolic syndrome, a cluster of common conditions that increase your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Add to the list the newest face of metabolic syndrome — fatty liver.

Fatty liver was previously most often seen with excessive alcohol consumption. It now more often occurs in the absence of alcoholic intake and is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This version is the leading liver disorder in the United States and Western Europe.

Estimated to affect some 30 percent of Americans, NAFLD is strongly associated with body weight. The heavier you are the more likely you are to have a fatty liver. In addition, well over half of those with type 2 diabetes have fatty liver disease.

Your doctor may suspect fatty liver disease if tests show abnormal levels of certain liver enzymes, imaging tests show an enlarged liver, or you have other conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure.

Microscopic examination of a liver tissue sample obtained with a biopsy is the only way to know for sure if you have a version of NAFLD that's associated with inflammation and scar tissue.

How does it happen?

NAFLD is characterized by an accumulation in the liver of a certain type of fat (lipid) called triglycerides. What causes this buildup of triglycerides isn't clear, but it seems to be closely linked to insulin resistance — a problem that...