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Looming Epidemic: Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Liver disease is a silent epidemic, effecting millions of Americans and imposing significant financial burden on the U.S. healthcare system. Not simply a result of alcohol consumption, as many believe, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the most common type of liver disease in the Western world - - associated with obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes and other metabolic risk factors and directly related to too much fat in the liver cells.

The American Liver Foundation estimates that about 100 million Americans - - over 30 percent of the U.S. population - - have NAFLD. If this trend continues, NAFLD will become the main indication for liver transplant in the country, with the number of healthy livers available for transplants likely to decline. Children as young as five are also developing fatty liver disease through over consumption of sugars, sodas, fructose, corn syrup and lack of exercise.

NAFLD is the result of poor eating habits and a sedentary lifestyle. In some cases, the fat in the liver cells builds up to the point where the liver cells swell and eventually cause inflammation. But there are usually no symptoms at this point.

In some patients, persistent inflammation causes scar tissue to form in the liver, which is also known as "fibrosis". As the inflammation continues, over time it leads to a condition that is called "non-alcoholic steatohepatitis" (NASH) - and its most troubling characteristic is its silence. The overall NASH prevalence in the adult population of developed countries has been estimated as high as 12 percent.


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