1 in 3 have fatty liver, study finds

Research uncovers disease that’s usually undetected, untreated
October 7, 2007
By SUE GOETINCK AMBROSE / The Dallas Morning News 


Although the Dallas Heart Study is primarily geared toward studying heart disease, the study has also included extensive analysis of the body’s fat distribution, including fat stored in the liver.
In a 2004 study published in the journal Hepatology, researchers led by UT Southwestern’s Dr. Jeffrey Browning reported that 31 percent of study volunteers have fatty liver disease, or abnormal accumulation of fat in their livers. The prevalence was highest in Hispanics and lowest in blacks.
Since the volunteers are representative of the county’s population, that means that about one-third of adults living in Dallas County are expected to have the condition.
And hardly any of those people know they have it, Dr. Browning said.
“If you look 15 to 20 years down the road, this may be a huge public health problem,” he said.
The UT Southwestern study is the first large survey of a population representative of the U.S., Dr. Browning said.
If the Dallas numbers apply to the U.S. population, Dr. Browning said, it means that as many as 71 million U.S. adults have the condition. Reports indicate that even obese children have the condition.
Fatty liver disease can progress over a decade or two to an inflamed liver and finally to cirrhosis, a condition where the liver becomes so scarred it can barely function and requires a transplant.
In the study, the scientists found that 45 percent of Hispanics, 33 percent of whites and 24 percent of blacks had fatty liver disease. In general, the disease went hand in hand with obesity and insulin resistance.
And almost 10 percent of lean people in the study had fatty liver disease, the researchers found. White men were more likely to have the condition than white women. Among Hispanics and blacks, the prevalence among men and women was similar. Too few people of Asian, Native American or other ethnicities had liver fat measured for the scientists to draw meaningful conclusions for those groups, Dr. Browning said.
There is no easy way to diagnose or treat the condition. Standard blood tests don’t pick up the condition reliably. And there are no magic pills known that can reverse or prevent the condition.

The best thing doctors can tell patients is to lose weight, advice that is notoriously difficult to follow.


On October 7, 2007, posted in: Articles, Liver Disease Articles by