Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol
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Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the term for a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat in the liver. Although it is unclear exactly how NAFLD progresses, having high levels of fat in your liver has been associated with chronic disease markers, such as obesity. Further complicating the picture is the absence of symptoms in the initial stages.
However, research suggests symptoms can occasionally show up and three telltale signs have been associated with the mouth.
NAFLD shares some risk factors with periodontitis – a severe gum infection that can lead to tooth loss and dental caries or cavities, more commonly known as tooth decay.
This prompted researchers to explore the association between NAFLD and several oral conditions among US adults.
They pooled and analysed data from the cross-sectional, nationally representative National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 1988 to 1994.
The NHANES was designed to assess the health and nutritional status of adults and children in the United States.
Multivariable models were developed to examine the independent effects of moderate-severe periodontitis, untreated tooth decay and tooth loss on NAFLD while controlling for clinical, biological, and sociodemographic factors.
What did the researchers find out?
People with any untreated tooth decay were more likely to have NAFLD.
NAFLD was also associated with tooth loss, periodontitis, and, for some NAFLD measures, untreated tooth decay but not overall tooth decay after controlling for several key sociodemographic and behavioural factors.
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“Results suggest that further evaluation is needed to better understand this health-oral health interrelationship and potential opportunities for medical-dental integration,” the researchers concluded.
How to diagnose NAFLD
Most people will not experience any symptoms of NAFLD in the early stages.
“You probably will not know you have it unless it’s diagnosed during tests carried out for another reason,” notes the NHS.
According to the health body, NAFLD is often diagnosed after a blood test called a liver function test produces an abnormal result and other liver conditions, such as hepatitis, are ruled out.
Am I at risk?
Experts don’t know exactly why some people accumulate fat in the liver while others do not.
“Similarly, there is limited understanding of why some fatty livers develop inflammation that progresses to liver scarring,” explains the Mayo Clinic.
According to the health body, NAFLD has been linked to the following:
- Overweight or obesity
- Insulin resistance, in which your cells don’t take up sugar in response to the hormone insulin
- High blood sugar (hyperglycemia), indicating prediabetes or type 2 diabetes
- High levels of fats, particularly triglycerides, in the blood.
“These combined health problems appear to promote the deposit of fat in the liver.”
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