1 in 5 young people have fatty liver disease, here’s how to minimise your chances of getting it

A build-up of fat in the liver might be a problem you think you’d encounter later in life, but experts are warning that there’s a silent epidemic among young adults in the UK, with one in five showing the signs of fatty liver disease, according to a new study.

It’s the term for when a person has too much fat in the liver, which can prevents the organ from doing its job of removing toxins and producing bile for digestion. In the long run, this can raise your risk of more serious health complications like diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease.

There are two different types to know about: alcohol-related fatty liver disease (damage caused by excess alcohol intake), and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – which is the one that experts say is on the rise in youngsters.

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Researchers from Bristol University tested more than 4,000 young people born in 1991 and 1992 for their study ‘Children of the 90s’. They found that over 20% had fatty deposits on the liver – half of which were classified as severe.

Experts are now warning that more needs to be done to warn people about the dangers of the disease, which often doesn’t have any symptoms in the early stages.

Here, we’ve rounded up four ways you can reduce your risk of NAFLD.

1. Lose weight

The most significant way you can cut your chances of developing the disease is to keep a healthy weight, which means losing weight if your BMI is above what it should be. The NHS say you should aim for a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 (if you’re not sure where you sit on the scale, here’s a handy online calculator). According to the NHS, losing more than 10% of your body weight can help to remove some fat from the liver.

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2. Avoid fried and salty foods

A bad diet full of sodium and sugar is a key contributor to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Try to minimise processed food and junk food and opt for a healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats instead. Avocados, fatty fish and nuts are all examples of ‘good’ fats.

3. Exercise regularly

The NHS say that all types of exercise can help you to keep your weight in check and reduce the risk of NAFLD, whether that’s a daily gentle cycle or a blistering HIIT session. As a benchmark, the health service advises packing in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week.

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4. Stop smoking

There’s no two ways about it: smoking seriously damages your health. Smoking (and passive-smoking) is significantly associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Kicking the habit is the best way to cut your risk. If you need help or advice on quitting, the NHS’ Smokefree service can help to put together a personal quit plan for you.

How do I know if I have fatty liver disease?

Worryingly, there aren’t usually any symptoms of NAFLD in the early stages. Most people won’t know they have it unless it’s found during tests carried out for another reason, such as an ultrasound scan during pregnancy.

If your doctor detects it, you may need a fibroscan or a blood test to determine what stage of the disease you have, and some people may also need a biopsy – where a small sample of liver is sent for testing.

If you’re diagnosed with NAFLD, it’s a good idea to take the above steps to stop it getting any worse. You GP can advise the best steps for reducing further deposits of fat in the liver.

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