(NaturalNews) For years, people who are pear-shaped with extra fat deposited in their thighs and backsides have been designated at lower risk for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes than those who are rounder and apple-shaped with excess fat stored around their middles. But two studies from nutrition researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, published in the journals Obesity
and American Journal of Clinical Nutrition
, conclude body shapes don't tell the whole story.
Instead, the most important key to high cholesterol, insulin resistance and other problems that can lead to diabetes and cardiovascular disease is having too much fat stored in your liver. The cause of this condition, known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, is overeating. But there's good news: scientists say simply by changing eating habits to a healthier diet and getting weight under control, the condition can be completely reversed.
"Since obesity is so much more common now, both in adults and in children, we are seeing a corresponding increase in the incidence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease," Samuel Klein, M.D., who heads the Division of Geriatrics and Nutritional Science and the Center for Human Nutrition at Washington University, said in a statement to media. "That can lead to serious liver disorders such as cirrhosis in extreme cases, but more often it tends to have metabolic consequences."
Dr. Klein headed a research team that studied obese adolescents divided into two groups: one group had excessive liver fat and another with no evidence of fatty liver disease
. The groups were matched by age, sex, body mass index, body fat percentage and the degree of their excess weight. The scientists found the teens with fatty liver disease also had abnormalities in glucose and fat
metabolism, including lower levels of HDL cholesterol ( known as the "good" cholesterol). The youngsters who didn't have fatty livers also didn't have markers of metabolic problems. Bottom line: it wasn't bodies shaped like apples that indicated metabolic risks, it was fat in their livers.
"Abdominal fat is not the best marker for risk," Dr. Klein, who also directs the Nutrition Support Service at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, said in the media statement. "It appears liver
fat is the real marker. Abdominal fat probably has been cited in the past because it tends to track so closely with liver fat. But if you look at people where the two don't correspond — with excess fat in the liver but not in the abdomen and vice versa — the only thing that consistently predicts metabolic derangements is fat in the liver."
In a second study, Klein's research team found nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
was linked to the release of larger amounts of fatty acids into the bloodstream. Those fatty acids, in turn, were associated with high triglyceride levels and insulin resistance -- strong risk factors for type 2 diabetes. "Multiple organ systems become resistant to insulin in these adolescent children with fatty liver
disease," Dr. Klein stated. "The liver becomes resistant to insulin and muscle tissue does, too. This tells us fat in the liver is a marker for metabolic problems throughout the entire system."
The findings indicate that both children and adults with fatty liver disease are at particularly high risk for heart disease and diabetes. However, there's a way to naturally treat fatty liver disease. In fact, it can be totally eliminated by losing excess weight and the condition of your liver can be improved in a matter of days. "Fatty liver disease is completely reversible you lose weight, and you quickly eliminate fat in your liver. As little as two days of calorie restriction can improve the situation dramatically, and as fat in the liver is reduced, insulin sensitivity and metabolic problems improve," Dr. Klein stated.
About the author
Sherry Baker is a widely published writer whose work has appeared in Newsweek, Health, the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, Yoga Journal, Optometry, Atlanta, Arthritis Today, Natural Healing Newsletter, OMNI, UCLA’s "Healthy Years" newsletter, Mount Sinai School of Medicine’s "Focus on Health Aging" newsletter, the Cleveland Clinic’s "Men’s Health Advisor" newsletter and many others.