How Diabetes Affects the Liver
If you have diabetes, you may feel like you've got enough to cope with just dealing with the day to day stress of monitoring your blood sugar and watching what you eat. Who's got time to think about your liver?
Start paying attention to this organ, experts say, since having diabetes puts you at risk for developing fatty liver disease. If you do, the condition is reversible assuming you take steps to deal with it rather than waiting for it to turn into a more serious condition.
Besides diabetes, high cholesterol and obesity put you at risk for fatty liver, explains Henry Bodenheimer, MD, chairman of the department of medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City. Unfortunately, many people have all three. "Fatty liver disease is associated with metabolic syndrome, which is characterized by high blood lipids, obesity and diabetes," he explains.
If you're wondering what exactly this unattractive-sounding condition is, it's exactly what it sounds like: fat accumulates in the liver, explains Shahla Nader, MD, professor of endocrinology at The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth). "The liver makes too much triglycerides," she explains.
Fatty liver also can occur in alcoholics, but the kind that diabetics get is called non-alcoholic fatty liver. "The condition mimics what happens with alcoholics, but the diabetics who get it aren't drinking," Bodenheimer explains.
Unfortunately, non-alcoholic fatty liver is becoming increasingly common. "It's a rising problem in America today," says Tracy Breen, MD, clinical director of the Mount Sinai Diabetes Center in New York City. And, she adds, it will soon be the number one cause of cirrhosis in the United States. Right now, hepatitis C is the leading cause of cirrhosis, Breen says.
If you are told by your doctor that you have fatty liver disease, the good news is that "it is very much modifiable by the environment," Nader says.
In other words, you can take action to get your health back on track. Here are some tips for how you can reduce your risk of liver disease:
- Maintain tight blood sugar control.
- Keep your weight at a healthy level. If you're overweight, make some dietary changes and find a form of exercise you like.
- Reduce your blood cholesterol by following a lowfat diet. Your doctor may prescribe omega 3 fatty acids, Bodenheimer says, to reduce your level of triglycerides.
- Avoid consuming excessive alcohol.
- Ask your doctor if you need to have liver function tests to make sure the medications you take are not harmful to your liver.
Take your liver seriously. If you have fatty liver, "recognize that it can progress," Bodenheimer says. "Patients with fatty liver who develop cirrhosis can ultimately go on to liver failure."
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