Liver fibrosis is the usual outcome of fatty liver disease that could result from alcohol consumption or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Liver fibrosis refers to liver scarring caused by damage to the liver cells. Several factors could trigger it, including obesity, long-standing diabetes, and the consumption of alcohol. However, a new study finds that mild alcohol intake can suppress the development of liver fibrosis in patients suffering from NAFLD.
What Exactly Is NAFLD?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD is a condition that affects the liver—an important organ that filters the blood and plays an important role in metabolism. In a healthy state, the organ stores some amount of fat. However, when the fat deposits increase and exceed five to ten percent of the weight of the liver, the condition is known as “fatty liver disease.” It is a disease, as excess fat adversely affects the functioning of the liver.
Fatty liver disease sometimes occurs as a result of excessive alcohol intake, in which case, it is known as alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD). When it is caused by factors other than alcohol, it is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD.
In the initial stage, there may be no symptoms. But as the condition progresses, the patient could experience fatigue, loss of weight, and upper abdominal pain.
Risk Factors of NAFLD
While the exact cause of the condition is unclear, doctors suspect the risk is high for a person who has diabetes or is obese. The tendency for it to develop could also be genetically inherited.
NAFLD can progress into a condition known as “non-alcoholic steatohepatitis” (NASH), which is a condition where the fat build-up damages the liver and causes inflammation in the organ. This can cause the liver to scar, leading to liver fibrosis. Liver fibrosis can progress into liver cirrhosis, which is virtually irreversible.
NAFLD is not a condition that has a cure. However, doctors believe that it could be reversed through lifestyle changes if detected in the initial stages. This involves monitoring body weight and keeping it normal, ensuring diabetes is under control, and avoiding alcohol.
However, a new study shows that mild drinking could actually prevent the development of liver fibrosis.
NAFLD, Liver Fibrosis and Alcohol Consumption
Doctors at Kanazawa University Hospital studied the relationship between alcohol consumption and changes in liver cells of patients suffering from NAFLD. They divided participants into groups based on their alcohol intake. Overall, they identified 101 patients who did not consume any alcohol and 77 patients who drank lightly. Their blood samples were tested and liver cells were taken for biopsy.
Observations and Conclusions
Researchers found that the “ballooning,” as well as the progression of liver fibrosis of cells, was much less for those who consumed mild quantities of alcohol compared to those who did not have alcohol altogether. This could be because alcohol affects immune response and reduces gene expression related to liver fibrosis. It also lowers the chances of damage to liver cells.
Researchers, therefore, recommend lifestyle changes as well as consuming alcohol in modest quantities. They believe that this could help to prevent NAFLD from progressing into NASH.