Liver disease: NHS Doctor talks about link with alcohol

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Alcohol and poor diet are two major culprits in the development of fatty liver disease, but literature on the relationship between eating behaviours and the condition is limited. There is evidence that late-night eating can induce several chronic diseases. According to one study, it could raise the risk of liver fibrosis by more than 60 percent, putting the liver at risk of permanent damage.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease describes a range of liver conditions that affect people who drink little to no alcohol.

Its primary cause is a dangerous build-up of fat inside the liver, caused by eating an excess of fatty foods.

In 2016, however, a study established that front-loading calorie intake in the morning hours could reduce the risk of fatty liver disease by 14 percent to 21 percent.

What’s more, it found that eating meals late at night, from 10 pm to 4 am increased the probability of significant fibrosis by 61 percent.

Fibrosis of the liver occurs when there’s an excessive accumulation of proteins such as collagen, which occurs in most types of chronic liver disease.

In the advanced stages, fibrosis can result in cirrhosis, liver failure and portal hypertension, and can require liver transplantation.

According to MedPage Today, researchers concluded these risks could be abated by:

  • Distributing caloric intake over more meals
  • Not skipping morning and midday meals
  • Consuming more daily calories during the morning and daytime periods
  • Avoid having meals anytime between midnight and 4 am.

The research appeared to suggest that the liver is dictated to by its own circadian clock, so to speak.

This internal mechanism is key in regulating both metabolism and energy homeostasis, which suggests food intake could be an important signal for these internal systems.

The NHS explains: “Early-stage NAFLD does not usually cause any harm, but it can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis if it gets worse.

“Having high levels of fat in your liver is also associated with an increased risk of serious health problems, such as diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease.

“If you already have diabetes, NAFLD increases your chance of developing heart problems.”

The condition can be broken down into four main stages.

The initial stage, known as steatosis, is characterised by a largely harmless build-up of fat in the liver cells.

Next is steatohepatitis (NASH), which describes inflammation of the liver, and is a more serious form of NAFLD.

Fibrosis is when persistent inflammation causes scar tissue to grow around the liver and nearby blood vessels, which doesn’t prevent the liver from functioning normally.

The final and most serious stage is cirrhosis, which usually occurs after years of inflammation, causing the liver to become scarred and lumpy.

At this stage, the damage incurred by the liver becomes permanent and can lead to liver failure and liver cancer.

“It can take years for fibrosis or cirrhosis to develop,” explains the NHS, adding that it’s important to take action early to prevent the condition from worsening.

People can take precautions by limiting alcohol intake and avoiding prescription and over-the-counter medications unless necessary.

A combination of calorie reduction, exercise and healthy eating are also recommended to help prevent the disease.

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