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Type 2 Diabetes & Fatty Liver Disease – The Connection You Need to KnowWed, September 22

When thinking about type 2 diabetes a few common complications or side effects come to mind. Like, nerve damage, kidney or heart disease, skin conditions, and eye damage. But there’s one condition being connected to type 2 diabetes that is far lesser-known. That being fatty liver disease. Today, about 100 million Americans have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) which could share a unique and elusive connection to type 2 diabetes. 

Considering type 2 diabetes affects nearly 90-95% of the 34 million Americans who have diabetes, and nearly 88 million Americans have pre-diabetes – knowing how to control the condition to prevent NAFLD is key. To become well-informed on type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease, we’ve compiled all the latest news. So, let’s officially answer the question – are type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease connected? Here’s what research says. 

What is Fatty Liver Disease? 

As a quick refresher fatty liver disease is a condition that’s caused by a build-up of excess amount of fat in the liver. If left untreated, fatty liver can lead to more serious issues like cirrhosis, cancer, high blood pressure, cardiac issues & may even require a liver transplant. What complicates fatty liver disease is the fact that there’s no approved medication or cure for the condition. One of the only ways to treat fatty liver disease is through weight loss. 

When going unaddressed, NAFLD can also lead to NASH AKA non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. NASH is diagnosed when the liver swells from the excess fat, becomes inflamed resulting in cell damage. From this basic overview, you may already see how excess weight commonly associated with type 2 diabetes might play a role in the diagnosis of fatty liver disease. We’ll explore that more, next. 

How Fatty Liver Disease and Type 2 Diabetes Connect

While type 2 diabetes doesn’t directly cause fatty liver disease the conditions are connected as they affect the same population. In fact, it’s been found that fatty liver disease can occur in up to 80% of patients with type 2 diabetes. Even more, a 2011 study concluded that fatty liver disease may even raise the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In fact, in 2019 the American Diabetes Association even published a recommendation that those with diabetes be screened for fatty liver conditions due to their elevated risk. 

As research continues to explore further physiological mechanisms between type 2 diabetes and liver disease, one thing we do know is insulin resistance can be a source of the connection. Here’s how – 

  • When excessive sugar enters the bloodstream, the pancreas makes insulin to reduce blood sugar levels.  
  • Insulin helps blood sugar enter the body’s cells to be used as energy.  
  • When excess sugar consumption continues, the cells eventually become resistant to the insulin and sugar stays in the bloodstream causing high blood sugar levels and elevated insulin levels, contributing to weight gain instead of increased energy. 
  • The fructose component of sugar can itself promote fatty liver and insulin resistance.  
  • A fatty liver is an insulin-resistant liver, releasing its sugar into the bloodstream, increasing blood sugar.  
  • Insulin resistance is a precursor to type 2 diabetes. 

Now that you know more about how type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease are connected let’s cover the top tips for treatment or prevention. 

Tips for Treatment and Prevention 

Fatty liver disease can be hard to diagnose as there are very few symptoms that offset further diagnostics. If you want to stay ahead of your health, have any suspicions or underlying causes of fatty liver disease below are the ways the disease can be diagnosed – 

  1. Blood tests (hepatic panel, etc.)
  2. Fibroscan (a form of ultrasound)
  3. Imaging (MRI, etc.)
  4. Biopsy

Once diagnosed, the only way to currently reverse NAFD is through healthier diets, weight loss, and increased physical activity. Which is also a way of prevention. Suggested diets often include – 

  • Eliminating soda and sugar-sweetened beverages like juices
  • Eating fewer fats from processed food and more fats from fish & nuts
  • Replacing starchy carbs like pasta with carbs from vegetables

Getting a restful 7-9 hours of sleep, and reducing stress levels are just a few other tips for treating and preventing fatty liver disease. 

Next Step: Awareness 

If you’re unaware of the intricacies of type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease you just might not take the condition or side effects as seriously as you should. This is why NASH Now exists as an advocacy group for NAFLD and NASH. NASH Now serves to provide resources to patients and spreads awareness to those unaware of the silent epidemic. 

Why so silent? NAFLD and NASH have virtually no symptoms. Making it even more important to give the underlying condition, a voice to be heard, known, prevented, and treated. Experts anticipate a 60+% increase in NASH by 2030 alone. So, do your part now and help the ones you love by promoting healthy habits and education. Save, and share this article or infographic and become involved with NASH kNOWledge to be on the good side of health.