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Liver Threat Growing from Obesity

June 22, 2014
Plain English Version

Fatty-LiverFatty liver is now at an epidemic stage in the U.S. Late stage fatty liver leads to swelling and scarring. These conditions slowly shut down the organ. They can result in cirrhosis of the liver, cancer, liver failure and heart disease.

Fatty liver comes from gaining too much weight. The disease has more than doubled in the last two decades in teenagers and adults. It occurs in about 10 percent of children and 20 percent of adults.

There are no drugs to treat the disease. The only cure is liver transplants. The only treatment is exercise and weight loss. Cutting back on sugar and calories can lead to great improvement.

Doctors say the disease looks like the liver damage usually seen in heavy drinkers. The liver swells with fat. When it gets really bad it is called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH is projected to pass hepatitis C as the leading cause of liver transplants by 2020.

More Hispanics have fatty liver disease than others. Hispanics carry a gene known as PNPLA3. It drives the liver to produce and store a type of fat called triglycerides.

In Hispanic children, fatty liver is increasing at a rate “faster and above” the overall increase in childhood obesity

In Los Angeles, liver disease is a leading cause of premature death among Hispanic adults. It is diagnosed in one out of two obese Hispanic children.

Asians develop fatty liver with a lower body mass index than others. They may not even be overweight

The most common symptom of fatty liver disease is abdominal pain.

What to do? Sugar and constant weight gain seem to be closely linked to fatty liver. Doctors tell patients to lower their weight by diet and exercise. They know it is harder than it sounds.

Drug companies are working on ways to prevent and cure the illness. A firm said its clinical trial of obeticholic acid showed promise in treating NASH. Some results may come later this year.

In any event it will be several years before any drugs are approved.

Source: The New York Times         June 13, 2014

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