For those with fatty liver disease, controlling blood sugar may help to reduce their risk of liver scarring and disease progression. There are currently no approved drugs to treat the condition, so researchers are hopeful that lifestyle interventions could help to decrease some of the more serious side effects.
According to a new study by Duke Health researchers, patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease were able to influence their chance of having more severe scarring of the liver by lowering blood glucose levels over three months. This type of scarring can lead to liver failure over time.
Lead author of the study Anastasia-Stefania Alexopoulos, M.B.B.S., said, “Severe liver disease related to fatty liver is on the rise. It’s becoming one of the leading causes of liver transplants and liver mortality. But we don’t have any effective treatments that are FDA approved, so really what it comes down to is finding other things we can do to help lower the risk of fatty liver disease progressing to these really poor outcomes.”
The study, published in the journal Hepatology, analyzed documented glucose levels of 713 adult patients with fatty liver disease prior to a liver biopsy.
It was found that higher average blood glucose levels in the year leading up to a liver biopsy were associated with more severe swelling of liver cells. Every one percentage point increase in hemoglobin HbA1c in the year before biopsy raised the chances for severe fibrosis by 15%
It was also noted that patients with moderate glucose control over a period of five years had more swelling of liver cells and a higher risk of advanced liver scarring.
Researchers say these findings are significant for patients with diabetes because a significant portion of this population also has non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. When health care professionals are thinking of complications of diabetes and blood sugar, it normally includes heart disease, high blood pressure, and cholesterol.
Alexopoulos and her team hope that this study helps to get fatty liver disease added to the list. It may also help clinicians reconsider their diabetes treatment approach to include medications known to improve both glucose control and promote weight loss.