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Researchers surprised to find fatty liver disease poses no excess risk for death
Date:11/23/2011

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common condition associated with obesity and heart disease long thought to undermine health and longevity. But a new study by Johns Hopkins researchers suggests the condition does not affect survival.

A report on the study was published online last week in BMJ, the British medical journal.

"Physicians have considered fatty liver disease a really worrisome risk factor for cardiovascular disease," says study leader Mariana Lazo, M.D., Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine's Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research. "Our data analysis shows this doesn't appear to be the case. We were surprised to say the least because we expected to learn by how much non-alcoholic fatty liver disease increased the risk of death and instead found the answer was not at all."

Using health information collected from 11,371 Americans between 1994 and 1998 and followed for up to 18 years as part of the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III), the researchers checked liver enzyme levels and ultrasound tests for evidence of NAFLD, and ultimately looked at death rates associated with NAFLD. The participants ranged in age from 20 to 74 during the data collection years. Because the ultrasounds were originally taken to assess gallbladder health, Lazo and colleagues from Johns Hopkins looked at each recording to determine the presence of fat in each person's liver. People whose livers are 5 percent fat or more are considered to have NAFLD.

The Johns Hopkins team found no increase in mortality among those with NAFLD, which was identified in approximately 20 percent of the NHANES participants. At the end of the follow-up period, mortality from all causes was 22 percent, or 1,836 individuals. Cardiovascular disease was the cause of death for 716 participants, cancer for 480 and liver disease for 44.

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Contact: Stephanie Desmon
sdesmon1@jhmi.edu
410-955-8665
Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions
Source:Eurekalert

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