Cases of fatty liver disease are on the rise as people’s waistlines continue to grow. As fat permeates the liver, the organ becomes unable to function properly. Over time, fatty liver disease can worsen into fibrosis or, ultimately, liver cancer or cirrhosis.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) affects nearly one in three Americans. NAFLD can be caused by high sugar levels (hyperglycemia), high levels of fat (triglycerides) particularly in the blood, obesity, or diabetes.
However, the rate of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease seems to be lower among cannabis users.
Cannabis use may lower risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease
Researchers at the University of Massachusetts Medical School are the first to examine the link between cannabis use and the rates of NAFLD.
The researchers examined medical records of 5.8 million patients from 3,000 hospitals. Their aim was to determine whether or not cannabis use affected a person’s risk of developing NAFLD.
The researchers did find a correlation between the use of cannabis and lower risk for the liver disease. The link was strongest among heavy users.
The researchers explained, “[The study] revealed that cannabis users showed significantly lower NAFLD prevalence compared to non-users.”
The reduction seen among cannabis users broke down like this: occasional users had a 15 percent lower risk and regular users had a 52 percent lower risk of developing NAFLD, compared to those who did not use the controversial herb.
The study did have some limitations. For example, people aren’t always openly inclined to discuss their cannabis use with medical professionals. Furthermore, there was no specific information collected about the type of marijuana used or its concentration or mode of delivery.
Regardless, researchers still wish to pursue further research on a molecular level to determine what it is about cannabis that reduces the risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Treatment for NAFLD
Losing weight is a current treatment method for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, with a recommendation of at least a 10 percent reduction in weight. NAFLD sufferers also need to be vaccinated for hepatitis, as their risk of developing it is higher. If NAFLD has progressed to fibrosis, cirrhosis, or liver cancer, then a liver transplant is likely required.
Some studies have suggested that consuming coffee helps support a healthy liver, as it could slow down damage.
There is currently no FDA-approved medication for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, but there are a few drugs being tested.