Liver disease: Doctor discusses causes and symptoms
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Also known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, fatty liver disease, refers to a range of conditions caused by fat in the liver. While it often doesn’t cause problems in its early stages it can become more severe over time. And if left untreated it can lead to liver failure and even cancer.
One of the major causes of fatty liver disease is being overweight or obese – especially if you carry a lot of fat around your waist.
Therefore, to lower your risk of fatty liver disease, health bodies recommend maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.
Now a study has revealed exactly how much exercise is needed to do this.
A meta-analysis of existing studies ruled that 150 minutes of exercise a week – or just under 22 minutes a day – was optimal.
The paper, published in The American Journal of Gastroenterology, used 14 studies focused on exercise interventions, which included 551 participants with fatty liver disease.
Researchers from universities in the US evaluated data such as age, sex, body mass index, change in body weight, adherence to the exercise protocols, and MRI-measured liver fat levels.
To consider the impact clinically significant, there had to have been a 30 percent relative reduction of liver fat, measured by an MRI.
Through this they found that exercise was three and a half times more likely to produce these results compared to conventional methods of care.
The team then determined what the best “dose” of exercise was, finding that 39 percent of the patients who either reached or surpassed the equivalent of 150 minutes of weekly brisk walking were able to reach this healthy liver threshold.
Just 26 percent of those who exercised less than this reached this mark.
The findings back the recommended amount of exercise by the American Gastroenterological Association, the European Association for the Study of the Liver and the NHS.
In a university release, study author and associate professor at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Centre – Jonathan Stine – explained: “Our findings can give physicians the confidence to prescribe exercise as a treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
“Having a target amount of physical activity to aim for will be useful for health care and exercise professionals to develop personalised approaches as they help patients modify their lifestyles and become more physically active.
“Exercise is a lifestyle modification, so the fact that it might match the ability of in-development therapeutics to achieve the same outcome is significant.
“Clinicians counselling patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease should recommend this amount of activity to their patients.
“Brisk walking or light cycling for half an hour a day five times a week is just one example of a programme that would meet these criteria.”
Aside from being overweight, other factors that can raise your risk for fatty liver disease include if you:
- Have type 2 diabetes
- Have a condition that affects how your body uses insulin
- Are insulin resistance, such as polycystic ovary syndrome
- Have an underactive thyroid
- Have high blood pressure
- Have high cholesterol
- Have metabolic syndrome (a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity)
- Are over the age of 50
Therefore, to lower your risk, the NHS recommends losing weight if needed, eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly and quitting smoking.
Fatty liver disease often does not present symptoms in its early stages but if it becomes more serious it can cause:
- A dull or aching pain in the top right of the tummy (over the lower right side of the ribs)
- Extreme tiredness
- Unexplained weight loss
- Yellowing of the skin and the whites of the eyes (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, feet or tummy (oedema).
If you think you have fatty liver disease you should see a GP immediately.
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