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Front Page » May 22, 2008 » Focus on health » Liver disease not restricted to drinkers anymore
Published 2,694 days ago

Liver disease not restricted to drinkers anymore

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As painful as it can be sometimes, exercise helps to fight many diseases, including fatty liver disease that is in part caused by obesity.

One of the foremost causes associated with liver disease is alcoholism. Widely known to negatively affect the liver when abused, alcohol is understandably one of the first things that comes to mind when the topic of liver disease is broached.

However, even if you've never had a drink in your life, you could be highly susceptible to liver disease.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a growing problem, particularly in western countries. That's thanks in large part to growing obesity rates in the west. According to the Mayo Clinic, some estimates indicate that as many as one-third of all American adults suffer from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. What makes those estimates so troubling is that in its early stages non-alcoholic fatty liver disease rarely causes any symptoms, meaning many people, adults and children included, could be suffering from the disease and not know it.

While symptoms are not likely to appear in the early stages of the disease, many researchers do feel there is a connection between non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome. Metabolic syndrome includes a handful of disorders that heighten the risk for heart disease, diabetes and stroke. If researchers' feelings are correct, this is an important step in the learning process, and one that could prove useful to potential liver disease sufferers.

If the two diseases are linked, then the following symptoms for metabolic syndrome could result. Though not officially linked, in the very least, these symptoms could provide early evidence of liver disease.

•Abdominal obesity. Obesity is a risk factor for many diseases, not the least of which is liver disease. Those who suffer from metabolic syndrome are typically obese around the waist.

•Hypertension. High blood pressure can affect more than just a person's heart. If you need to, ask your physician to test for liver problems if you're diagnosed with hypertension.

•Insulin resistance. Insulin regulates the amount of sugar in your blood. A resistance to insulin could be indicative of a number of ailments, one of which is liver disease.

•Abnormal cholesterol levels. If your good cholesterol (HDL, high-density lipoprotein) is lower than is normal or you have abnormally high bad cholesterol, liver disease can result.

While none of these symptoms are good, there is good news with respect to some of them. The risk factors that typically result in the aforementioned symptoms are often preventable, meaning an individual can greatly reduce his or her risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Some of these preventable risk factors include the following.

•Obesity. More than 70 percent of people with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), the most dangerous type of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, are obese. Often obesity is related to a poor diet and insufficient physical activity. That's an alarming number, and yet another reason to take physical fitness seriously.

•Diabetes. Though many people are born with diabetes, many more diabetes sufferers were not. In such instances, poor diet and exercise routines often play a significant role in getting the disease. Insulin resistance damages many organs in the body and the liver is no exception. Seventy-five percent of NASH sufferers are also diabetics.

•Hyperlipidemia. This occurs when your cholesterol levels are abnormally high. While each of these indicators also act, as symptoms of other problems, such as metabolic syndrome, it's good to note that each of these can be leading you down the path to liver disease, whether you've ever had a drink or not.

•Abdominal surgery. While a surgical procedure such as gastric bypass can treat obesity, it can also lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Other abdominal surgical procedures, such as small bowel resection and jejunal bypass, can also be dangerous. That's because such procedures often lead to rapid weight loss, which can damage the liver. Even a pound of two per week, while it may seem minimal, can be damaging to your liver.

•Hepatitis C or B. While instances of Hepatitis C have decreased greatly in the last 15 years, the disease has not been eradicated entirely. Long-term infection can result in cirrhosis, particularly in those patients who became infected later in life.

Drug users who share needles or people who have unprotected sex with contaminated partners can leave themselves open to Hepatitis, which can be very damaging to the liver.

•Medications. Numerous medications can increase a person's risk for developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Medications for anything from menopause to breast cancer to high blood pressure can negatively affect a person's liver. Before taking any such medications, discuss with your physician their pros and cons.

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