Experts have justifiably raised concern about the emerging cases of fatty liver disease, which develops when obesity is partnered with physical inactivity, leading to the excessive storage of fat in one’s liver.
U.S. Latinos face unique health risks because they’re most likely to experience the highest occurrence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The Mayo Clinic indicated that nonalcoholic fatty liver disease could lead to liver inflammation, scarring and irreparable damage, similar to the effects of alcohol, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, malnutrition or cirrhosis on the liver.
High consumption of fatty, sugary and salty food has grown this disease in the Latino community. However, while obesity and poor eating habits are the prime reasons for the development fatty liver disease, they aren’t the sole reasons. Latinos are also predisposed to the disease; they often carry the variant gene PNPLA3, which motivates the liver to aggressively produce and store triglycerides, a type of fat found in blood.
The most serious form of nonalcoholic fatty liver is sometimes called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). And in severe cases, fatty liver disease can progress to acute liver failure.
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Nearly 10 percent of children and 20 percent of adults have fatty liver disease, and there are 5 million people living with NASH. Between 2001 and 2009, NASH-related liver transplants increased from 1 percent to 10 percent. According to the University of California, nearly 25 percent of liver transplants can be attributed to NASH, and by 2020, NASH will surpass hepatitis C as the main reason for liver transplants, if the increase in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease isn’t addressed.
But, why is fatty liver disease on the incline? The rise of obesity in U.S. adults certainly plays a role, but it’s the rapid increases in child obesity that’s fiercely linked to the epidemic. Insulin resistance, a trademark of Type 2 diabetes, has also been rumored to be an underlying cause of fatty liver disease. Exposure during pregnancy could also drive this outcome, but other contributing factors are unknown.
Obese Latinos can reduce liver fat accumulation by losing weight and steering clear of sugar and alcohol. Eat more fruits and vegetables, and avoid the fatty foods that are difficult to quit because they are often the most affordable, attractive and accessible. Beating this disease is matter of changing one’s life. There are no pills and there is no medication, although the FDA has been rushing the development of GR-MD-02, a drug created to reverse some of the more progressive symptoms of the disease. Also, high doses of vitamin E are suggested to help.
Jean-Marc Schwarz, PhD, Professor of Biochemistry at Touro University California in Vallejo and Associate Research Endocrinologist at the University of California, San Francisco, lead a recent study, addressing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
He provided meals to obese Latino and African American children between the ages of 9 and 18, offering them the same caloric and macronutrient structure as their normal diet… except he removed sugar. After 10 days, the sugar reduction led to the conversion of sugar-to-fat decline of 40 percent, and the fat in their liver was reduced by more than 30 percent.
“These results suggest that the detrimental effects of fructose can be reversed by reducing fructose consumption,” Schwarz said in a press releases. “The conversion of sugar to fat in the liver, known as hepatic de novo lipogenesis (DNL), may be an important pathogenic mechanism leading to liver fat accumulation in children that can be reversed by fructose restriction.”
The National Institutes of Health (National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Disease and the National Center for Advancing Translational Science) continues to produce research to investigate nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.