Your liver’s connection to heart health: NAFLD increases your risk for heart attack and stroke
09/10/2019 // Edsel Cook // Views

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) also affects cardiovascular health. Patients with this liver disorder are much more likely to develop heart disease or experience a stroke.

NAFLD is the most widespread hepatic condition in the United States. Characterized by fat comprising more than five percent of the liver, NAFLD can develop into a more serious disease.

People with fatty liver disease suffer from abdominal pain near the stomach, heavy perspiration, fatigue, and jaundice. Their urine and feces also have unnatural colors.

Patients with mild NAFLD, on the other hand, may not experience any of these symptoms. Instead, they may only have increased levels of liver enzymes.

But there also times when NAFLD evades standard blood tests. An ultrasound diagnosis of the liver is the best way to detect the presence of the disorder.

As its name implies, NAFLD does not come from heavy drinking; it is caused by eating foods with too much calories.

Obesity, excess weight, a sedentary lifestyle, and eating lots of processed foods and refined sugar all contribute to the onset of NAFLD. At least one in every five cases of NAFLD is bound to progress into non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). NASH can lead to liver cancer, cirrhosis, organ failure, and death. (Related: Limiting dietary sugars can help reduce fatty liver in adolescents with NAFLD, say researchers.)

A common liver condition increases the risk of cardiovascular disease

Earlier studies have found a connection between fatty liver disease and heart disease: Patients with NAFLD are highly likely to develop coronary artery disease as well.


“Most people who have fatty liver disease are more likely to die from a heart attack than (from) cirrhosis of the liver,” observed Dr. Howard Monsour, the Director of Hepatology at The Methodist University in Houston.

Meanwhile, other studies also uncovered a similar relationship between NAFLD and metabolic syndrome. People with fatty livers often have unhealthy amounts of abdominal fat, hypertension, insulin resistance, and high concentrations of triglycerides.

These risk factors which compose the metabolic syndrome also increase people's risks of heart attack and stroke.

In a recent study, researchers from Baylor College of Medicine (BCM) evaluated more than 500 participants undergoing coronary angiography and found that 70 percent of them had stage three coronary artery disease. The width of their coronary arteries had shrunk by more than 75 percent at that point.

But what the researchers found surprising was that a similar percentage of the participants had NAFLD. Additionally, they observed that patients with coronary heart disease displayed high levels of liver steatosis.

Given their findings, the BCM researchers concluded that there is a close association between NAFLD and coronary artery disease.

Improve liver health with these healthy lifestyle changes

The liver's regenerative ability makes it possible for people to avoid NAFLD, stop its progression, or even reverse its effects. They can help the liver along by making healthy lifestyle choices.

Cutting back on alcohol, fatty foods, processed foods, and refined sugar that contribute to NAFLD is a good start. Eating organic foods that are GMO-free and replacing processed carbohydrates with dietary fiber, healthy fats, and high-quality protein can also help a lot.

People with liver problems should eat cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage. These vegetables encourage the synthesis of glutathione, a vital antioxidant that protects the liver.

Regular sessions of physical exercise also help burn fat, and increased metabolism benefits the liver. To stay healthy, spend at least 75 minutes each week doing aerobic exercises and lift weights every now and then to spice up the routine.

People can also take supplements that improve the condition of the liver. For instance, silymarin from milk thistle has antioxidant properties that can help treat liver problems.

Another option is turmeric, whose active compound curcumin can reverse liver disease. N-acetyl cysteine can replenish glutathione levels and improve liver function in people with NAFLD.

Sources include:

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