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Research shows treating non-alcoholic fatty liver disease reduces risk of type 2 diabetes

Treating non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, according to new research from Teine Keijinkai Hospital in Japan.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a generic term for a number of conditions that lead to a build-up of fat in the liver. The disease primarily affects people who are overweight or obese, and increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
Because both NAFLD and type 2 diabetes are more likely in obese people, the two often develop simultaneously.
The researchers examined the data of 3,074 adults, all of whom had two abdominal health checks: one in 2000, and one in 2012. The participants were then divided into two groups: the first group had NAFLD, and the second group didn’t. The NAFLD group was further divided based on whether their NAFLD improved or remained the same over the course of the two health checks.
In total, 6.1 per cent of participants developed type 2 diabetes – 16.1 per cent of the NAFLD group, and 3.1 per cent of the non-NAFLD group. Of the NAFLD, 17.8 per cent of those whose NAFLD did not improve developed type 2 diabetes, compared to 6.4 per cent of those who whose NAFLD did improve.
The results suggest that improving NAFLD reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes, although the study was unable to pinpoint why. There could be a direct link between NAFLD and type 2 diabetes, or it could be that the lifestyle changes made by the improved group reduced the risk of type 2.
“The current study showed a positive association between NAFLD improvement and [type 2 diabetes] incidence reduction independent of the potential confounders,” wrote the researchers.
“The possible explanations are that 1) NAFLD improvement reduced [type 2 diabetes] incidence and 2) other factors (e.g. lifestyle modification) affected both NAFLD improvement and [type 2 diabetes] risk reduction.”
In other words, the link between NAFLD improvement and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes isn’t necessarily direct: it could be that the kind of lifestyle changes made to improve NAFLD also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes.
“In conclusio, the present 10-year cohort study showed that NAFLD is an independent risk factor for [type 2 diabetes] […] Hence, clinicians should be aware of the long-term effects of NAFLD on [type 2 diabetes]. Of note, NAFLD improvement is associated with significant [type 2 diabetes] incidence reduction. This causal relationship warrants clarification in future studies.”

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