Often ignored, treatable condition increases risk

  • One in four adults may have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which increases the risk of heart disease, research suggests.
  • NAFLD can go undiagnosed for years, but early diagnosis can save lives, experts say.
  • Maintaining a healthy weight, exercising regularly, and following a heart-healthy diet can lower your risk.

It is estimated that one in four adults has an often unrecognized condition that increases the risk of


heart disease

according to new research from the American Heart Association.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs when the body deposits unusually high amounts of fat in the liver, which can lead to scarring and inflammation, according to the statement published April 14 in the peer-reviewed journal by peers Arteriosclerosis, Thrombosis, and Vascular Biology.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in people with NAFLD, and the conditions share many risk factors, including type 2


diabetes

obesity and metabolic syndrome (elevated blood sugar and triglycerides, increased abdominal fat and


high blood pressure

).

NAFLD increases the chance of developing heart disease compared to people who have the risk factors without liver disease.

NAFLD can go years without being diagnosed

NAFLD is common but often overlooked in routine medical care, according to P. Barton Duell, MD, FAHA, chairman of the statement writing committee.

“It’s important to know about the condition and treat it early because it’s a risk factor for chronic liver damage and cardiovascular disease,” he said.

NAFLD can go undiagnosed for years, and the AHA hopes to raise awareness and improve access to screening tools and treatments.

Fat deposits and liver dysfunction can also occur due to excessive alcohol consumption, but NAFLD is something separate.

Healthy lifestyle changes can prevent or treat NAFLD

If diagnosed early, NAFLD can be treated with lifestyle changes.

Genetics can play a role in whether someone develops NAFLD, but a healthy lifestyle can help prevent it, according to the AHA. They recommend exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, and maintaining a healthy body weight, as well as managing conditions such as


type 2 diabetes

.

“Although healthy living can help prevent NAFLD in many people, some may develop NAFLD despite their best efforts,” Duell said.

However, genetics could also prevent people from developing NAFLD despite having obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, unhealthy dietary habits or being sedentary, he said.

Losing 10% of body weight drastically reduced liver fat, and even 5%


weightloss

showed improvements, according to the statement.

Even without weight loss, researchers recommend 20 to 30 minutes of daily exercise to decrease liver fat and improve insulin sensitivity.

Regarding diet, they recommend reducing the consumption of fats and simple sugars, avoiding alcohol and prioritizing vegetables rich in fiber and whole grains.

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