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Non-alcoholic fatty liver linked to heart disease
May 9, 2022— Even if you never drink alcohol, you could still be at risk for a liver disorder that can lead to serious health problems. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) can lead to serious liver problems. It's also linked to heart disease, according to the American Heart Association (AHA).
NAFLD can lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. But the leading cause of death for people with NAFLD is heart disease, according to the AHA. Many of the risk factors for NAFLD also increase risk for heart disease. But the risk is still higher for people with NAFLD than for people who do not have it.
NAFLD affects about 1 in 4 adults globally. Many of them don't know they have it. That's because NAFLD has no symptoms, and routine health screenings often don't detect it. The good news: Lifestyle changes can help prevent—or even reverse—NAFLD.
What is NAFLD?
NAFLD occurs when substantial fat builds up in your liver. It's not caused by drinking alcohol. According to the American Liver Foundation, risk factors include:
- Chronic kidney disease.
- High cholesterol.
- Metabolic syndrome.
- Polycystic ovarian syndrome.
- Type 2 diabetes.
There are two types of NAFLD:
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver is the most common and occurs when only fat is in the liver.
- Non-alcoholic steatophepatitis (NASH) affects about 20% of people with NAFLD. When NAFLD progresses to NASH, the liver has fat, inflammation and scarring.
What can you do?
There's no cure for NAFLD. But lifestyle changes can help to prevent it. And even you already have NAFLD, making healthy choices can delay or even reverse the effects of early NAFLD, according to the AHA.
- Maintain a healthy body weight. Losing 5% to 10% of your body weight can have a big effect on your liver.
- Exercise on a regular basis. It can help your body handle insulin better—and even remove fat from your liver.
- Eat a liver-healthy diet. Choose plenty of vegetables and whole grains, and limit fats and sugar.
- Manage chronic conditions. Ask your doctor to help you control conditions that raise your risk, such as diabetes.
- Avoid alcohol. Drinking alcohol doesn't cause NAFLD, but it can make liver problems worse.
Love your liver
Your doctor can help you understand your risk for NAFLD and other liver diseases—and how to lower it.
Do you know how else to keep your liver healthy? Find out by taking this liver health quiz.
The information found in the Health Library is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice nor does it represent the views or position of WHMC. Readers should always consult with their healthcare provider for diagnosis and treatment, including for specific medical needs.