Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease has been found to have a link with insulin resistance—a characteristic of patients suffering from type 2 diabetes. Based on this finding, researchers in Sweden have been successful in developing a common treatment for both fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes.
Fatty liver disease, also known as hepatic steatosis (HS), refers to a condition where fat accumulates in the liver without any signs of injury. It is also called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease since it is not caused due to alcohol consumption like liver conditions. However, it is a chronic condition that leads to severe problems such as inflammation of the liver, often scarring it and leading to serious conditions like cirrhosis.
In addition to chronic liver problems, fatty liver disease has also been linked with weight-gain tendencies often leading to obesity, type 2 diabetes, insulin-resistance, and cardiovascular diseases.
How are fatty liver and diabetes linked?
Both diseases are linked to the extent that our bodies are able to metabolise the food we eat, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is very common among patients of type 2 diabetes. This is reflected in the tendency of diabetics to become overweight and insulin resistant. There seems to be a clear link with the fat in a person’s body, and reducing weight is effective for reversing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Studies have also found that people suffering from fatty liver disease cannot metabolise glucose and often have low glucose tolerance or overt diebetes. In addition, about 50 percent of diabetics suffer from this disease.
Researchers have found that type 2 diabetes and fatty liver disease are interrelated. Diabetics have an increased risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. At the same time, fatty liver disease may even lead to the development of type 2 diabetes.
Some strategies to manage fatty liver disease include:
- Controlling blood sugar
- Losing weight and maintaining healthy weight
- Controlling blood pressure
- Managing cholesterol levels by keeping LDL or ‘bad’ cholesterol and triglyceride levels in check
- Avoiding consumption of alcohol
While the above measures may help to control the development of the disease or slow down its progress, researchers are looking for a concrete solution to the problem.
Adil Mardinoglu, a systems biologist at KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s Science for Life Laboratory (SciLifeLab) found a link between non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and poor levels of glutathione (GSH), an antioxidant. It showed that the presence of oxidants could burn fat in the liver. If people were treated by a “cocktail” that increases oxidation, it could lead to the burning of fat.
Following this, research was conducted by a team from KTH Royal Institute of Technology’s Science for Life Laboratory (SciLifeLab) research center and Gothenburg University. The researchers studied 86 people who had varying levels of fatty liver disease. In the research, they observed how fat changes the functioning of liver cells. Researchers also analysed a genome-scale model of liver tissue. The combined data revealed that the liver is capable of burning up fats that have accumulated.
The findings of the research were published in a paper authored by Adil Mardinoglu and Jan Borén.
Researchers experimented with various drugs used to treat diabetes. They found that drugs like metformin had no impact on fatty liver disease. However, Thiazolidinediones (TZDs), which are known to reduce insulin resistance, had a positive impact on patients who also suffered from fatty liver disease. Similarly, a study in Japan showed that Glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) analogs helped in preventing the disease. In addition, statins that are used to treat patients with cholesterol problems were found to help patients with fatty liver disease. Swedish researchers are now planning to conduct clinical trials of a new treatment for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and type 2 diabetes. This treatment makes use of the ability of liver cells to burn accumulated fat.