Diabetes And Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: What You Need To Know

Have you appreciated your liver lately? You should! This mulit-talented organ performs over 500 functions in our bodies. The liver metabolizes carbohydrates, fat, and protein; filters blood, stores vitamins and minerals, and produces bile (which helps the small intestine to digest our food). Even more impressive is that the liver is the only visceral organ that can regenerate itself. This is a handy feature considering how much the liver is responsible for.

Because of the liver’s multiple functions, problems in the liver can have a widespread effect. Fatty liver disease is defined as at least 5% of liver cells showing fat deposits. When this accumulation of fat is not associated with alcohol it’s referred to as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, or NAFLD.

Photo: AdobeStock/magicmine
Photo: AdobeStock/magicmine

NAFLD increases the risk of cardiovascular disease as well as type 2 diabetes. Conversely, having type 2 diabetes puts a person at a greater risk for NAFLD. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 70% of people with type 2 diabetes are obese and have fatty livers.

Those with type 1 diabetes may also develop NAFLD, although the risk that they will develop NAFLD correlates to their degree of obesity, and it’s not clear if they have an increased risk of NAFLD independent of obesity.

Why Should I Care?

A healthy liver makes fat usable for the rest of the body by converting it into fatty acids. It also helps get those acids to where the body needs them and removes excess fat from the blood. In the presence of NAFLD, this normal fat-using-and-removing cycle is disturbed.

High levels of fat in the blood, insulin resistance, high blood sugar, and being overweight or obese all contribute to excess fat being stored in the liver. As the liver stores more and more fat, it becomes harder for the liver to play its role in regulating blood sugar. As the liver becomes more crowded with fat deposits, insulin resistance increases, which can either speed the onset of type 2 diabetes or make existing diabetes harder to control.

Photo: AdobeStock/marina_ua
Photo: AdobeStock/marina_ua

Should I be concerned?

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