Research finds poor liver health may increase diabetes risk
Obesity is an extremely common cause of type 2 diabetes, the most common form of diabetes that is mainly caused by lifestyle factors. But recent studies carried out by a group of researchers in South Korea found that, having non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) will, in fact, increase the risk of developing diabetes, even if the patient is not obese or does not have central obesity (belly fat), meaning that diabetes could be more closely related to liver health than we ever expected.
Poor liver health may lead to diabetes, regardless of weight
The study was published in the medical journal Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Diseases. The team of researchers at Kangbuk Samsung Hospital gathered data from over 70,000 adults, aged at least 20 with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 25.
It was observed that in patients with fatty liver or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), the risk of developing diabetes increases proportionately with their degree of insulin resistance, a condition in which the liver, fat cells, and muscle fail to use insulin effectively, causing an abnormal rise of blood sugar level.
Researchers have also noticed that NASH patients’ severity of liver fibrosis is linked to the risk of diabetes – the more severe the liver fibrosis is, the more likely diabetes will develop.
According to research data, people with severe NAFLD are 3.5 times more likely to develop diabetes than healthy individuals. Given the case, NAFLD patients may have to deal with the possible complications brought by diabetes, such as chronic kidney disease and cardiovascular problems, which could further worsen the existing liver disease.
But these NAFLD patients all have a healthy BMI level of lower than 25, why are they still at risk for diabetes, when the most common cause of diabetes is obesity?
The key lies in where the fat is stored
There is one type of fat that exists in our body but may not be visible to us, and that is visceral fat. Unlike subcutaneous fat, which refers to the fat that we can actually pinch on our arms, legs, and waist, visceral fat is the kind of fat that is packed around our abdominal organs.
While people with large waist size may have more visceral fat, skinny people can also have a dangerous level of visceral fat, even if they don’t have any accumulation of fat in their belly.
The dangerous thing about visceral fat is that, it can cause insulin resistance and liver inflammation, and at the same time, insulin resistance and inflammation in the liver can further induce more fat deposit around the organs, creating a vicious cycle. Over time, diabetes may develop and the degree of liver damage is likely to become more serious.
What can NAFLD patients do?
In this case, weight loss may not be entirely suitable because of the patients’ healthy BMI level. What patients can do is increase their physical activity to reduce their visceral fat content, especially those in the liver. But the most important thing that patients should do is to regularly monitor their liver health, including the liver inflammation level. After all, the high risk of diabetes comes from the problem of a malfunctioning liver. By managing our liver health right, we could lower the risk of diabetes as much as possible.
- Science Direct, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S093947531930033X?via%3Dihub, (Accessed Date: 2018-02-19)
- Healio, https://www.healio.com/endocrinology/diabetes/news/in-the-journals/%7Bffdf7943-78fb-40ce-ab44-a3b07e058622%7D/fatty-liver-increases-diabetes-risk-for-adults-without-obesity, (Accessed Date: 2018-02-19)
- Diabetes Forecast, http://www.diabetesforecast.org/2012/may/fatty-liver-and-type-2-diabetes.html, (Accessed Date: 2018-02-19)
- The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/prediabetes-insulin-resistance, (Accessed Date: 2018-02-19)
- Physician’s Weekly, https://www.physiciansweekly.com/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease-diabetes/, (Accessed Date: 2018-02-19)
- * All research and clinical data should be used as reference purposes only, results may vary.