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Digital Subscriptions > Healthy Food Guide > November 2019 > The ticking health time bomb

The ticking health time bomb

As our waistlines continue to expand, we increase our chances of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is caused by belly fat. Jo Waters investigates the potentially serious consequences

WHEN WE THINK OF LIVER DAMAGE, most of us think immediately of alcohol. But it’s not the only culprit. Rising obesity levels have resulted in an increased risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

NAFLD, the medical term for too much fat building up in your liver, can be a killer. While it’s still at stage 1 it’s largely harmless, but if it progresses through stages 2 to 4 it can cause inflammation and, ultimately, cirrhosis of the liver. It’s estimated that a third of the UK population could have NAFLD, but most probably don’t know they have it, as symptoms don’t appear until the later stages.

Who’s at risk?

You’re more at risk if you’re overweight and, in particular, if you’re overweight with type 2 diabetes. If NAFLD is picked up early with blood tests, you can reduce it through diet and exercise. But, worryingly, if undetected, 20% of people with early-stage NAFLD will go on to suffer cirrhosis – scarring of the liver that prevents it from working properly.

The corner’s report on the death of 53-year-old singer George Michael on Christmas Day 2016 said that, among other factors such as heart problems, fatty liver may have been a factor. George had battled with his weight.

Latest figures from the UK Biobank suggest that as many as 12 million people in the UK may have fatty liver disease and 1.4 million could have the more serious type – non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – which is stage 2. This is the stage where the liver becomes inflamed. Around 360,000 of these people will go on to develop cirrhosis.

Pamela Healy, chief executive of the British Liver Trust charity, says we’re facing an epidemic of liver disease. ‘It’s really alarming that one in five of the people we see at the mobile Love Your Liver screening sessions have a high liver-scan reading and need further investigation,’ she says. ‘This is a wake-up call to the liver disease epidemic the UK is facing. It needs to be addressed urgently before it’s too late and costs unnecessary lives.’

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About Healthy Food Guide

Expert advice on how to stop life’s stressful situations becoming fat traps. Plus, why fatty liver disease is affecting non-drinkers and our no-nonsense guide to plant-based proteins. Sensational soups, risottos and jacket potato toppings and, in our special section, how to sleep better.