Fatty liver, or liver disease, is a common condition in the US as well as in other nations like Italy, Japan and China. Read on to know what a fatty liver is and what causes it.
What is Fatty Liver?
Fatty liver is the name given to a condition that is also known as Steatosis. It is marked by a yellowish discoloration of the liver due to the accumulation of some types of fats (known as Triglycerides) in the organ.
What Are the Causes Of Fatty Liver Disease?
The condition typically arises when there is accumulation of certain kinds of fats inside liver cells in unnatural levels. There is degeneration of fats in the Parenchymal cells (also referred to as Hepatocytes) which leads to a release of substances into the lymph channels, blood and the tiny canals between Hepatocytes (Bile Canaliculi).
Medical experts have identified several common causes for the development of fatty liver. Read on to know some of these causative factors.
Alcoholic Causes of Fatty Liver
Steatosis commonly results from alcohol abuse, particularly a condition that is known as Alcoholic Liver Disease (ALD). Over 15 million individuals in the U.S. suffer from overuse or abuse of alcohol. 90-100% of these people develop fatty livers.
Consumption of large or even moderate amounts of alcohol can give rise to a fatty liver condition. The disorder can also arise following heavy drinking for a short period. It may give rise to Acute Alcoholic Liver Disease. Alcoholic Liver Disease depends to a great extent on the amount of alcohol consumption as also the likelihood of suffering from alcoholism (as determined by heredity). Heredity can also have an impact on the levels of liver enzymes that are involved in alcoholic breakdown (metabolism).
Other factors that may have an influence on your chances of suffering from Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease include:
- An overload of iron
- Hepatitis C (which can lead to a swollen liver)
Disorders as Causes of Fatty Deposits in Liver
The presence of diabetes can be a promoting factor of this condition. According a medical research, 27% of the people with diabetes are also found to suffer from a fatty liver. This has led to the conclusion that fatty liver disease is shared with diabetes. Metabolic abnormalities, high glucose, excess level of triglyceride in blood and excess weight which are the causes of diabetes are also viewed as the causative factors of fatty liver. Fatty liver should not directly be viewed as a cause of diabetes. However, it can be an important sign of the development of diabetes.
Fatty liver is also believed to be a result of various other conditions like
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Alpha 1-antitrypsin deficiency
- Hepatitis C (particularly genotype 3)
- Gastric bypass
- Total parenteral nutrition
- Severe weight loss
- Jejuno-ileal bypass
- Refeeding syndrome
- Jejunal diverticulosis, along with overgrowth of bacteria
Other Causes for Fatty Liver
Reye’s Syndrome – It is a rare liver disorder that can lead to problems like fatty liver. In extreme cases, patients may suffer from liver failure and enter into a coma. This can give rise to life-threatening conditions.
Excessive intravenous Tetracycline/Amiodarone – Acute cases of fatty liver are also caused by rich doses of intravenous amiodarone or tetracycline.
Side effects of herbs – Use of some herbs (such as the Chinese herb Jin Bu Huan, which is used as a pain reliever and sedative) can also give rise to serious Steatosis conditions.
Do Metabolic Problems Cause Fatty Liver?
Yes. Fatty liver can also develop due to various metabolic conditions resulting from
- Glycogen storage disorders
- Weber-Christian disorder
Metabolic diseases, such as Diabetes Mellitus and Thyroid Dysfunction may also give rise to fatty liver problems.
Medicines as Cause of Fatty Liver
The condition may also result from the use of certain medicines like:
Aspirin – Reye’s Syndrome is a rare though acute disease that typically develops in children who are recovering from a viral condition. As aforesaid, this is a potentially life-threatening syndrome that is characterized by sudden fat accumulation in the liver as well as brain inflammation. Fatty liver, in case of Reye’s Syndrome, is supposed to occur when aspirin is provided to teenagers and children suffering from influenza. This drug has been identified as a co-factor in the formation of Reye’s Syndrome and its impact on the human liver.
Methotrexate (Rheumatrex) – This is a powerful drug that intervenes with the usual cellular metabolism. It is used to cure some types of Rheumatoid Arthritis, Psoriasis and even Cancer. Liver toxicity, involving the formation of fatty liver, is a potential side effect of this medicine.
Glucocorticoids – These are steroidal drugs that have powerful anti-inflammatory effects and can result in accumulation of fat in the liver. Prednisone and Cortisone are two common Glucocorticoids. These medicines are used for curing various inflammatory conditions, which include
Some other drugs that are held responsible for this medication are:
- Amiodarone (Cordarone)
- Environmental hepatotoxins (such as Phosphorus and Mushroom poisoning)
- Expired Tetracycline
- Griseofulvin (Grifulvin V)
- Highly active antiretroviral therapy
- Tamoxifen (Nolvadex)
- Valproate (Depakote)
Obesity as a Fatty Liver Cause
Obesity, which is defined as excess body fat, is a significant health problem around the world. In the United States alone, obesity is the cause of approximately 300,000 deaths every year. It also elevates the risk of development of various chronic disorders like:
- Cerebrovascular disease (responsible for strokes)
- Colon Cancer
- Coronary heart disease (an agent of heart attacks)
- Diabetes Type II
- High blood pressure
- Insulin resistance
- Sleep apnea
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) [a form of liver disease]
In individuals of average health, the amount of body fat (stated as a percentage of body weight) normally ranges within 18-23% in men and 25-30% in women. Men who have more than 25% body fat and women having higher than 30% body fat are considered to be obese. Obesity is also determined by calculating the BMI (body mass index), a mathematical formula that uses the height and weight of a person in calculating body fat percentage.
Various stages of Fatty Liver disease are considered to be a result of insulin resistance which is mostly associated with obesity. Liver damage is said to have a direct correlation with BMI. This indicates that the higher the BMI of a person, the greater is the damage to his/her liver. When excessive alcohol combines with obesity, the damage is even more devastating.
What Causes Fatty Infiltration of the Liver?
Fatty infiltration of the liver mainly occurs due to an increase in the quantity of fat transferred from other regions of the body to the liver. This elevated transfer may happen due to two cases –
- An increase in the removal of fat from the intestine to the liver
- Retarded rate of fat breakdown and removal from the liver
A change in any of the steps succeeded by the liver for lipid metabolism can also lead to this liver condition.
Other factors that may result in fatty infiltration of liver involve
- Administration of steroids
- Diabetes mellitus
- Excessive endogenous steroidal production
- Long term parenteral nutrition
Steatosis may also occur due to certain chemicals such as yellow phosphorus and carbon tetrachloride. Fatty liver infiltration may also occur during the time of pregnancy.
Fatty liver disease mainly strikes overweight or middle-aged individuals. It is also common in those with diabetes and increased levels of Triglyceride and Cholesterol. If you belong to either group, get yourself thoroughly checked. When diagnosed in time, this condition can be effectively cured with a few lifestyle modifications. Liver is one of the most important organs of your body. It is important for you to protect it and prevent any remote possibility of damaging this vital organ that is essential for survival.
Written by Shoummojit
on January 24th, 2010. The article was last updated on September 26th, 2011