The Link Between Obesity & Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease


Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is the single most prevalent cause of liver disease around the world and cases of affected adults are rising here in Singapore. As the name implies, NAFLD occurs when there is excessive fat build-up in the liver. While it is commonly believed that heavy alcohol use contributes to the damage of the liver, other lifestyle habits may also put you at risk of NAFLD.

In majority of patients, NAFLD is associated with the metabolic syndrome characterized by risk factors including diabetes mellitus, dyslipidemia and obesity. While the causes of the disease are uncertain, those with NAFLD tend to face obesity as well as hypertension and high cholesterol levels which raises the risk of having a fatty liver. Because it has no symptoms, it may also be difficult to detect since NAFLD is rarely discovered until much damage has been done.

How Does Obesity Play a Part in NAFLD?

There are two kinds of NAFLD:

  • Simple fatty liver – There is fat deposition in your liver but with little or no inflammation and liver cell damage. It is not typically severe enough to cause any liver damage problems or complications and the symptoms might not be noticed.
  • Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) – Occurs when fat continues to build up and the liver becomes inflamed. The inflammation and swelling in the liver may lead to more serious problems of liver cirrhosis and liver cancer.

While NAFLD most commonly affects the middle-aged and elderly as risk factors increase with age, fatty liver disease can also occur at any age including in children who are especially overweight. NAFLD is closely associated with metabolic risk factors including obesity. As obesity rates are rising in Singapore, the prevalence of NAFLD has also increased.

Symptoms of NAFLD

NAFLD is a silent disease that is often asymptomatic. Fatty liver disease symptoms can be vague or there is few or no symptoms to indicate that one might have the disease. However, possible symptoms may include enlarged liver, fatigue, and pain in the upper abdominal area.

Prevention is Key 

There is no medication or medical treatment for fatty liver diseases, however patients should make concrete lifestyle modification and changes to help reduce the risk and possibly reverse the damage in early stages.

You can refer to the following dietary tips:

  • Moderate your alcohol intake. The recommended daily alcohol limit is 30g for males and 20g for females
  • Maintain a healthy weight with a BMI of 23 or lower
  • Replace trans fats and animal fats with monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats such as flaxseed oil, olive oil, corn and safflower oils
  • Eat a well-balanced diet with fruits and vegetables, low in sugar and high in fiber.
  • Regular exercise two to three times a week for 30 to 60 minutes to lose weight and reduce fat in the liver

You should also go for regular health screenings as diagnosis usually happens due to a routine blood test or there are relevant risk factors. If NAFLD is suspected, your doctor will also feel the abdominal area for any swelling, discuss about your diet and lifestyle, and carry out tests to eliminate other conditions.

Head down to gutCARE clinic in Singapore and talk to one of our specialists today regarding any health concerns. Our gastroenterology clinic provides sub-specialized care services for digestive and liver disorders. gutCARE also conducts the Fibroscan liver health assessment, a state-of-the-art non-invasive tool used to provide a complete assessment of your liver health and check for liver diseases such as hepatitis B or fatty liver disease.

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