Obesity is being linked to alarming new statistics showing one in four Canadians may be affected by liver disease, according to figures released by the Canadian Liver Foundation Monday.
“A diet full of sugar, high calorie and high fat foods can lead to excess fat being stored in the liver,” said CLF medical advisory committee chairman Dr. Eric Yoshida.
“This fat build-up might never impact the functioning of the liver but it is the first step toward what could be a life-threatening condition.”
The progressive disease is predicted to overtake hepatitis C as the leading cause of liver transplants.
A review of current liver disease data reveals as much as 20 per cent of the Canadian population has fat build-up in their livers.
‘Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease’, or NAFLD, is a term used for the condition that varies in severity from simple fat accumulation with no inflammation to its most advanced stage involving inflammation and fibrosis.
From this advanced stage, a person can progress to cirrhosis and liver failure.
“Many people still believe that all liver disease is alcohol related,” said Yoshida.
“With the prevalence of non-alcoholic liver disease however, the odds of anyone, including adults and children, being affected by liver disease are in the same realm as health conditions like heart disease or diabetes that Canadians are far more familiar with.”
If left unchecked, NAFLD has the potential to develop into cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure.
“NAFLD is already having an impact on the demand for liver transplants but what few realize is that it is also affecting the supply,” said Yoshida.
“Too much fat in a donor liver can mean that that organ cannot be used for a transplant. This means it is making the organ shortage even worse and we are losing out on the opportunity to save more lives.”
The good news is that NAFLD can often be prevented, or even reversed if it is detected before permanent liver damage has occurred.
“When you bring up the topic of liver disease, it doesn’t take long for someone to say how it has personally affected them or someone they know,” said CLF president Gary Fagan.
“Ten years ago, we said that one in 10 Canadians were at risk but when you factor in the rise of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease along with prevalence rates for hepatitis B and C, alcoholic liver disease, autoimmune liver diseases, children’s liver diseases, liver cancer and more, we are now looking at 1 in 4. The numbers show liver disease is relevant to everyone. People can’t ignore it any longer.”