- A new study found that eating fast food is linked to a risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
- The disease is when an excess of fat is stored in the liver and it can lead to other complications.
- When a liver is put under stress as it is with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, it can lead to cirrhosis, which can then lead to liver cancer or failure.
A new study has found that eating at fast-food restaurants, which often serve fried foods high in calories, may be linked to certain liver conditions.
A study published January 10 in the Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology medical journal found that eating fast food is associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, which is a potentially life-threatening condition in which fat builds up in the liver.
What is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease?
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is an overarching term for a range of liver issues that affect people who do not drink alcohol. It’s when an excess of fat is stored in the liver and it can lead to other complications. Alcohol-related liver disease is associated with drinking a large amount of alcohol, which also leads to fat buildup in the liver.
What the study found
The study from Keck Medicine of USC looked at people with obesity or diabetes who got 20% or more of their daily calories from fast food. It included 4,000 adults. It found that these people had severely elevated levels of fat in their liver, compared to those who consume less or no fast food. For the purpose of the study, fast food was characterized as meals from a drive-through restaurant or one without wait staff, including pizza.
Of those surveyed, 52% of the population consumed some fast food.
Of these, 29% consumed one-fifth or more daily calories from fast food. Only this group had a rise in liver fat levels.
Healthy livers have a small amount of fat – roughly 5%.
“Even a moderate increase in fat can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, Dr. Ani Kardashian, MD, a hepatologist with Keck Medicine and lead author of the study said in a statement.
The study also showed that a modest amount of fast food (one meal a day) can also hurt the liver. When a liver is put under stress as it is with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, it can lead to cirrhosis, which can then lead to liver cancer or failure.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease up to 25% of people in the United States.
“Ample research has shown that fast food consumption increases cardiovascular risk factors, but limited evidence exists for the liver,” said Neha Mehta, DO, an internist in Los Angeles, CA. “This informational observational study helped highlight and quantify the negative effects that fast food has on development of liver disease, especially in those with obesity and diabetes. It also brings to light that liver disease does not just come from consuming alcohol, but a great deal comes from the type of food we eat and can lead to all the negative side effects we classically think of with heavy drinkers.”
How to maintain a healthy liver
The liver plays a key role in keeping the body healthy.
All the blood that leaves the stomach and intestines passes through the liver. The liver processes and breaks down the blood, creating the nutrients we need to survive, as well as metabolizing toxins so that they are easier for the body to use.
To reduce the risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, the best things we can do are to choose a healthy diet, maintain a healthy weight, and exercise.
Avoiding alcohol is another way to maintain a healthy liver.
Issues around getting access to healthy foods
Barriers like income, community infrastructure, and access to supermarkets are all factors that influence the availability of healthy food.
“In our present time where obesity and diabetes is affecting a great number of children and the young adult population, this article provides further motivation to advocate for change not only in the provider’s office, but also on a bigger scale with policies and increasing access to healthier foods for everyone in the US,” Mehta says.
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