Fatty Liver Often Leads to Diabetes

(HealthCentersOnline) - Many patients with a common liver disease will eventually become diabetic, new research suggests.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NFLD) is a buildup of fat in liver cells that is not caused by alcohol abuse. Type 2 diabetes is a metabolic disorder in which the body develops difficulty using the hormone insulin to process glucose for energy. Obesity is a major risk factor for both disorders.

Swedish researchers examined 212 patients between 1988 and 1993 who had chronically elevated liver enzymes, a sign of liver damage. Liver biopsies indicated that 129 of these patients had fatty liver without alcohol abuse or other liver disease. Of those 129 patients, 88 agreed to be tracked for an average of 14 years from their diagnosis of NFLD.

The scientists described their study as the largest and longest-term of its kind. They found that 78 percent of the volunteers developed diabetes or prediabetes, a condition that often leads to type 2 diabetes. They also linked NFLD, which is sometimes described as a minor condition, to a risk of developing end-stage liver disease.

"Given the strong association between insulin resistance and NAFLD it is reasonable to recommend lifestyle modifications in all patients with NAFLD. Not only do lifestyle modifications reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, intense dietary intervention may also improve liver histology in NAFLD," the authors concluded.

The study was published this month in Hepatology.

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