Lean people have hidden risks of fatty liver disease

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In a surprising turn of research, the University of Michigan has shed light on a unique health dilemma facing individuals with a normal Body Mass Index (BMI) who are living with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

This condition, which is characterized by excess fat storage in liver cells without significant alcohol consumption, has long been associated with those who are overweight or obese.

However, this study presents compelling evidence that lean individuals with NAFLD are actually at a higher risk of developing heart disease compared to their overweight counterparts.

NAFLD is the umbrella term for a range of liver conditions affecting people who consume little to no alcohol, leading to potential complications such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and liver cirrhosis.

Traditionally, the focus has been on those with higher BMIs, leaving a gap in research regarding lean individuals with the condition. Addressing this gap, researchers at the University of Michigan embarked on a study involving over 10,000 adults diagnosed with NAFLD at their hospital from 2012 to 2021.

The study’s participants were categorized based on their BMI into four groups: lean, overweight, class 1 obesity, and class 2-3 obesity.

The findings were unexpected. Lean individuals with NAFLD were found to have a lower prevalence of cirrhosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and dyslipidemia when compared to non-lean individuals.

However, they showed a higher prevalence of peripheral vascular disease, brain-vascular disease, and overall heart disease.

These findings challenge the prevailing notion that a normal BMI automatically equates to a lower risk of metabolic or cardiovascular diseases, particularly in the context of NAFLD.

The research highlights a critical oversight in current medical practices, where lean patients with NAFLD might not be screened as rigorously for heart disease as they should be.

Given the unexpected link between NAFLD and cardiovascular disease in lean individuals, the study underscores the importance of not overlooking this demographic. These individuals may face serious health consequences akin to those who are overweight or obese.

The research team is now looking to further investigate this phenomenon through long-term studies to determine if lean individuals with NAFLD have an inherently higher risk of developing cardiovascular diseases.

Preventing heart disease in individuals with NAFLD, regardless of BMI, involves maintaining a healthy weight, following a nutritious diet, engaging in regular exercise, managing blood pressure and cholesterol, quitting smoking, effectively managing other health conditions like diabetes, and regular health check-ups.

These preventative measures are crucial for mitigating the risk of heart disease, showcasing the importance of a holistic approach to health and well-being, especially for those with NAFLD.

This study by Karn Wijarnpreecha and colleagues not only challenges existing perceptions but also calls for a broader understanding and approach to managing NAFLD and associated risks.

It’s a call to action for healthcare providers to consider the unique risks faced by lean individuals with NAFLD, ensuring they receive the comprehensive care and attention needed to prevent serious cardiovascular outcomes.

If you care about liver health, please read studies about simple habit that could give you a healthy liver, and common diabetes drug that may reverse liver inflammation.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about simple blood test that could detect your risk of fatty liver disease, and results showing this green diet may strongly lower non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

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