By John Salak –
Sedentary lifestyles and lousy sleep habits are a recipe for an unappetizing dish of fatty liver disease. According to research from China, people have this repulsive problem because of poor health habits.
Fatty liver disease may be the world’s leading chronic liver disease, hitting about a quarter of adults, according to the American Heart Association. Fueled by metabolic disorders such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, it can progress to end-stage liver disease, posing health and economic concerns.
“People with poor nighttime sleep and prolonged daytime napping have the highest risk for developing fatty liver disease,” reported Yan Liu, Ph.D., an academic who helped the Chinese research.
The good news from China is that simple sleep adjustments can help keep the disease at bay.
“Our study found a moderate improvement in sleep quality was related to a 29% reduction in the risk for fatty liver disease,” Liu added.
The Chinese research team studied self-reported sleep behaviors from 5,011 Chinese adults with fatty liver disease and found late bedtime, snoring, and daytime napping for over 30 minutes were significantly associated with an increased risk of fatty liver disease.
“Our study provides evidence that even a moderate improvement in sleep quality is sufficient to reduce the risk for fatty liver disease, especially in those with unhealthy lifestyles,” Liu said. “Given that large proportions of subjects suffering from poor sleep quality are underdiagnosed and undertreated, our study calls for more research into this field and strategies to improve sleep quality.”
Identifying the link between sedentary lifestyles, obesity and fatty liver disease is particularly critical because the problem is difficult to diagnose, which can spur other medical conditions extending beyond the liver, such as heart disease.
“Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common condition often hidden or missed in routine medical care. It is important to know about the condition and treat it early. It is a risk factor for chronic liver damage and cardiovascular disease,” reported Dr. P. Barton Duell. They are a professor of medicine at the Knight Cardiovascular Institute and Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Clinical Nutrition at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, Oregon.
A report by Duell notes two types of NAFLD: when only fat is present in the liver (called non-alcoholic fatty liver). The other occurs when inflammation and scarring are also present (called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH). Excess alcohol intake can cause similar fat deposits and liver dysfunction. The term NAFLD differentiates between disease caused by excess alcohol intake and disease without alcohol being a central factor.
NAFLD not only significantly raises the risk of heart disease but may also go undiagnosed for years. The report, therefore, advocated the need to enhance awareness and monitoring for NAFLD, improve screening tools and treatment, and develop an emphasis on lifestyle changes to help prevent and treat the disorder.
Lifestyle improvements include maintaining a healthy body weight, exercising regularly, eating a heart-healthy foods diet, and managing conditions such as Type 2 diabetes and elevated triglycerides (a type of fat) in the blood. However, Duell noted that genetic factors also play a role in whether a person develops NAFLD and whether it results in liver issues.
“Although healthy living can help avert NAFLD in many individuals, some may develop NAFLD despite their best efforts,” Duell explained. “At the other end of the spectrum, some individuals may have a genetic makeup that protects them from developing NAFLD despite having obesity, Type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, unhealthy dietary habits or being sedentary.”
Knowledge and proactivity are essential.
“The lack of awareness of the high prevalence of NAFLD contributes to underdiagnosis,” said Duell. “Individuals with risk factors for NAFLD warrant more careful screening.”