A disease in which fat invades the liver is on the rise in Singapore, but there is a straightforward way to fight it – by losing weight.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the build-up of extra fat in the liver that is not caused by alcohol, is one of the most prevalent liver diseases in the world.
In Asia, an estimated 20 to 30 per cent of the adult population has it. It is the leading cause of chronic liver disease and the third-most-common reason for liver transplants in the United States.
In Singapore, a recently released study on more than 60,000 Chinese Singaporeans found that diabetics are three times more likely to die from severe liver disease than those without the condition.
This came after news broke late last year that Punggol East MP Charles Chong had a severe form of the disease and needed to undergo a liver transplant.
In NAFLD, fat gradually infiltrates the healthy liver areas, so that less healthy liver tissue remains. This can progress to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (Nash), with varying degrees of inflammation and scarring (fibrosis) of the liver.
It can worsen to cirrhosis (permanent scarring and hardening of the liver), which can then lead to liver failure. Fatty liver and Nash are reversible, but cirrhosis is not.
Fatty liver is usually associated with abdominal obesity, insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes.
Unsurprisingly, the leading cause of NAFLD is being overweight or obese. Weight loss is therefore considered fundamental in treating the disease.
Dr Lim Su Lin, chief dietitian at the National University Hospital, said research has shown that a weight loss of 7 to 10 per cent can reverse fatty liver and Nash.
Diet and lifestyle modifications can help prevent or reverse NAFLD. Here are her suggestions.