Weight loss can improve nonalcoholic fatty liver disease

If you are overweight or have obesity, weight loss can improve nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

 

If you are overweight or have obesity, weight loss can improve nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is one of the most common liver diseases in the United States. It is typically a silent disease with few or no symptoms, and most people have no complications. However, some people could develop serious complications such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. 

Learn more about nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, factors that increase your risk for it and research that is leading the way toward new treatments. 

What is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease? 

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition in which excess fat is stored in your liver and the buildup of fat isn’t caused by heavy alcohol use. 

A more severe form of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis also causes inflammation and liver damage. Steatohepatitis can lead to liver cancer, permanent liver scarring called cirrhosis and liver failure. If you develop liver failure, you may need a liver transplant to survive. 

Who is at risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease? 

If you have certain conditions such as obesity, high cholesterol or type 2 diabetes, you might be at risk for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. As obesity rates have increased in the United States, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease has also become more common. Research suggests that the disease currently affects 30 percent to 40 percent of U.S. adults and up to 10 percent of U.S. children. 

Although nonalcoholic fatty liver disease may occur in people of all races and ethnicities, it is most common among Hispanics, followed by non-Hispanic whites. It is less common among African Americans. 

Are there treatments for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease? 

Weight loss can improve nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. For people who have the disease and are overweight or have obesity, doctors may recommend gradual weight loss through healthy food choices and physical activity. 

At this time, no medicines have been approved to treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or its severe form, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. 

Progress in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease Research 

Medical research is seeking to better understand and treat nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), conducts and supports Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease research. In the past decade, NIDDK-supported researchers have discovered that specific genes play a role in causing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. 

These genes may help explain why nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is more common in some racial and ethnic groups than in others. 

NIDDK-sponsored studies are also testing possible treatments for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. 

For example, an early study suggested that the natural form of vitamin E and a diabetes medicine called pioglitazone may improve some aspects of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis in adults. More research is needed to see if these treatments are safe and effective. 

The Future of Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease Treatment 

The NIDDK, which marks its 70th anniversary this year, continues to invest in research that will deepen our understanding of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and may lead to new ways to treat this liver disease and prevent its complications. 

To learn more about nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and NIDDK’s liver diseases research, visit the NIDDK website.

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