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

lthough the researchers found no increase in deaths, Lazo says further study is needed to determine whether more advanced NAFLD has serious long-term consequences for the liver, a vital organ that turns what we eat and drink into nutrients and filters harmful substances from the blood.

NAFLD, which some researchers have called the nation's next epidemic, is characterized by the liver's inability to break down fats and fatty build up in the organ. Found in roughly one in three Americans, it is most prevalent in those who are obese, and those with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. The spectrum of disease ranges from simple fat build-up to inflammation to the scarring and poor liver function that characterize cirrhosis. Chronic liver disease has long been associated with long-term alcohol consumption, but as the name suggests, NAFLD is found in those who are not heavy drinkers.

"We don't yet know why mortality is not affected or whether there might be some actual protective effect of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease," she says, "but it looks like the liver's ability to accumulate fat may somehow shield the body from the detrimental effects of other health problems such as obesity and diabetes," she says.

There is no treatment for NAFLD, other than lifestyle changes, including weight loss, and only a liver biopsy can determine how serious NAFLD is. Lazo says she hopes new methods are developed that more easily identify more advanced stages of NAFLD, which may not be harmless.

Still, she says, her research suggests that with respect to long-term survival of people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, "it may not matter if you have the disease or not."


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

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