People with fatty liver disease are more than twice as likely to become seriously ill with COVID-19, researchers have said.

The study, carried out by teams from UK BioBank and a diagnostic imaging company called Perspectum, involved looking at more than 42,000 liver scans.

One of the most interesting findings showed that obesity itself does not increase the risk of severe coronavirus complications, which some prevous findings had suggested.

What does raise the risk is if someone’s liver fat is more than 10 per cent. Those with less than five per cent life fat had no extra risk at all.

However, data collected from the UK BioBank has indicated that one in nine people have more than 10 per cent of fat in their liver, which implies those people have an increased risk of being admitted to hospital with COVID-19.

Dr Matt Kelly, Chief Innovation Officer at Perspectum and key author of the research said: “Fatty liver can be a silent disease and if we knew who had it we could keep a closer eye on this group. Not only could this inform shielding policy for this group but it could also help us bring in measures to mitigate the actual risk factors such as diet and lifestyle.”

Dr Aseem Malhotra, leading cardiologist, who specialises in diet related health said: “It is increasingly clear that excess body fat in many people even those who have a normal BMI is a significant risk factor for COVID-19 complications.

“Fatty liver is one of the earliest manifestations of poor diet and lifestyle and this is being predominantly driven by diets high in refined carbohydrates and sugar. The message is very clear cut. Cut down the refined carbs.”

Professor Stephen Ryde, medical advisor to the British Liver Trust added: “We know diabetes and hypertension increase the risk of complications from coronavirus.

“It now appears fatty liver could also be a risk factor. If this study is replicated it could help inform health care policy for this high-risk population.”

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