Obesity can trigger liver disease

The obesity epidemic is certainly not helping. According to the NHS, obesity is not only a major risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, several cancers and more, but also a potential cause of liver cirrhosis, an extremely painful condition that scars a person’s organs and leads to much shorter life expectancy than if it had never developed.

Treatment is tragically lacking, however. Researchers from the University of British Columbia found that bariatric surgery (weight loss surgery, also known as lap-band surgery) can reduce the risk of liver disease in those taking part in the study. Their study involved roughly 500 heavy drinkers who had been diagnosed with liver disease. Because in many cases, the condition can be treated with meds, the research team examined the risk of complications among those with and without bariatric surgery. They also looked at the occurrence of two liver diseases, cirrhosis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

The researchers found that people with obesity undergoing bariatric surgery were less likely to develop liver disease over a 7-year period, with the risk of severe liver disease falling by 63 percent. Patients who underwent bariatric surgery had a lower incidence of liver damage, as well as a low risk of the liver “tingling” sensation that can be caused by NAFLD.

“Current estimates suggest that about six out of every 100,000 people in the UK have cirrhosis, and about 10 out of every 100,000 people have NAFLD – so a lot of people in the UK who would benefit from bariatric surgery don’t get it,” said study lead Dr. Jeff Richardson in a news release. “In these obese patients, even a small reduction in risk is valuable – but if we can reduce the impact of alcohol more completely, we could dramatically change the statistics.”

While there are differences between the two conditions, obese patients with NAFLD are often encouraged to give up alcohol. Obese patients who underwent bariatric surgery were more likely to quit alcohol, too.

Lead author, Dr. Rubin Herrin, concluded, “This study suggests that bariatric surgery can offer significant benefits to people with moderate-to-severe liver disease. It also shows that people who do not have cirrhosis but do have NAFLD are more likely to quit alcohol, which offers additional benefits for health.”

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