Often overlooked, a treatable condition increases risk

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

It is estimated that one in four adults has an often-missed condition that increases their risk of

heart disease

according to a new study from the American Heart Association.

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

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


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

high blood pressure


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

NAFLD can go undiagnosed for years

NAFLD is common but often missed in routine medical care, according to P. Barton Duell, MD, FAHA, chair of the statement’s editorial board.

“It’s important to know about the disease 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 distinct.

Healthy lifestyle changes can prevent or treat NAFLD

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

Genetics can influence 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 a healthy lifestyle can help avoid NAFLD in many individuals, some may develop NAFLD despite their best efforts,” Duell said.

However, genetics could also prevent people from developing NAFLD despite obesity, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, unhealthy eating habits or physical inactivity, he said.

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


showed improvements, according to the release.

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

On a dietary level, they recommend reducing the consumption of fats and simple sugars, avoiding alcohol and favoring fiber-rich vegetables and whole grains.

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