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Deadly combination: How type 2 diabetes may increase your chances of contracting liver disease

Type 2 diabetes

(NaturalNews) Type 2 diabetes is known to carry a risk of many serious complications, including cardiovascular disease, nerve damage (leading to eye and foot damage), kidney damage and even Alzheimer's disease. Now, a new and severe condition may be added to that list, according to a study conducted by researchers from the Universities of Southampton and Edinburgh, and published in the Journal of Hepatology: non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

The Scottish and Southampton Diabetes and Liver Disease Group was also involved in the research, which was funded by the Scottish government.

"We have shown for the first time that type 2 diabetes is an important novel risk factor that increases numbers of hospital admissions and deaths, in people with all common chronic liver diseases," researcher Chris Byrne said. "Further research is now needed to determine whether all patients with type 2 diabetes should be screened for common chronic liver diseases."

Risk three to five times higher

NAFLD is exactly what it sounds like: a pathological buildup of fat in the liver, not caused by excessive alcohol consumption. It is strongly associated with obesity. There is no treatment for NAFLD, and complications can be severe, including cirrhosis and liver cancer. People with NAFLD also have trouble metabolizing alcohol, and alcohol is likely to exacerbate the damage their livers have already suffered.

For the new study, the researchers looked at anonymized hospital records and death records collected in Scotland over a 10 year period. The data revealed that men with type 2 diabetes were three times more likely to develop NAFLD than non-diabetic men. The effect was even stronger in women; diabetic women had five times the risk of NAFLD, compared with non-diabetic women.

Rates of both diabetes and NAFLD remain higher among men than among women, however.

The findings suggest that as rates of type 2 diabetes continue to rise worldwide, there will probably be a corresponding increase in hospitalization and death caused by NAFLD.

The good news is that both type 2 diabetes and NAFLD are highly preventable by avoiding smoking and maintaining good diet and exercise habits.

"Preventing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by avoiding unhealthy lifestyles in both people with and without diabetes is important because it is difficult to treat the complications of this condition," researcher Professor Sarah Wild said.

HFCS connection?

The study did not reveal the reason for the connection between type 2 diabetes and NAFLD, other than the fact that the two diseases share many of the same risk factors – notably, the cluster of symptoms known as metabolic syndrome, which includes central obesity, high blood pressure, high fasting glucose, high levels of triglycerides and low levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol.

There may be another risk factor that both type 2 diabetes and NAFLD share, however: high consumption of the ubiquitous artificial sweetener high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

A 2010 study conducted by researchers from Duke and Johns Hopkins Universities, and the University of Colorado, and published in the Journal of Hepatology, found that, "increased consumption of fructose containing beverages – of which at least three-quarters contained high fructose corn syrup – was associated with scarring in the liver, or fibrosis, among patients with [NAFLD]," according to researcher Manal Abdelmalek.

Abdelmalek had already previously shown that certain people became significantly more likely to develop NAFLD if they consumed more fructose-sweetened beverages.

"I believe there is an increasing amount of data that suggests high fructose corn syrup is fueling the fire of the obesity epidemic, but until now no one has ever suggested that increased fructose consumption contributes to liver disease and/or liver injury," she said.

"We need to do formal studies that evaluate the influence of limiting or completely discontinuing caloric sweeteners, like high fructose corn syrup, from one's diet and see if there are health benefits from doing so."

Studies have also linked HFCS consumption to increased rates of weight gain and more damage to the heart, relative to sucrose (table sugar).

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