Diabetes and Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

by Dr. Julian Whitaker
Filed Under: Blood Sugar, Diabetes Complications
Last Reviewed 02/06/2014

Contrary to popular belief, the leading liver problem in the United States is not alcoholic cirrhosis or hepatitis, but nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

Afflicting roughly one in four Americans, it is not caused by alcohol or a virus but by obesity and insulin resistance. Hence, many people living with diabetes are affected by it.

In fact, at least half of all people with type 2 diabetes have it, as do up to three-quarters of obese people and 90 percent of the morbidly obese. Although nonalcoholic fatty liver disease usually develops in people over age 50, it is becoming increasingly common in children as obesity rates skyrocket in our younger age groups.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is a progressive disease with three distinct stages. Simple fatty liver, or steatosis, is characterized by elevations in liver enzymes and fatty deposits in the liver (at least 10 percent of the liver cells are replaced by fat). If the disease is arrested in this stage, it remains relatively benign. Unfortunately, for one in five patients, it progresses to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, involving inflammation of the liver. From there, half develop cirrhosis, marked by advanced and irreversible scarring, fibrosis, and loss of liver function.

The most significant risk factors for progression include type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome (formerly called syndrome X). The unifying link in both of these disorders is insulin resistance.

When the cells resist insulin’s signals to let glucose in, the pancreas secretes higher and higher levels of insulin to get the job done. Elevated concentrations of insulin in the blood create metabolic imbalances that drive up blood levels of free fatty acids. This influx of fatty acids overwhelms the liver’s ability to handle them, and they are converted into triglycerides and stored in the organ, setting up a vicious cycle of lipid peroxidation (free-radical damage), inflammation, and liver cell injury.

But don’t despair!  This blog includes many natural diabetes treatments that can help you avoid this, as well as other diabetes complications.

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