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By Susan J. White
The rising number of fatty liver disease cases is a major public health concern and part of the ongoing obesity epidemic in America.
Fatty liver disease or NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis), which is caused by obesity not drinking alcohol, can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and/or liver cancer, said Claus Fimmel, MD, a NorthShore liver specialist and Hepatology Section Chief.
While about one third of the US population has excess fat in their liver, and one third of those will develop fatty liver disease, there are typically no signs or symptoms in the early stages. Many patients find their way to a liver specialist following blood work from an annual physical that reveals elevated liver enzymes. Other patients present after having undergone an abdominal ultrasound or CT scan that reveals increased fat content of their liver.
Patients with fatty liver disease often suffer from other health conditions including diabetes or high blood pressure as well. Some people with the disease may experience fatigue, pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen or abdominal swelling.
The good news is that the liver can completely rebuild itself and return to a normal state when patients lose excess weight, or about 10% of body weight for most people who are significantly overweight or obese. However, once liver cirrhosis has developed, the condition is no longer reversible since liver regeneration is no longer possible.
“Weight loss has been proven to reduce liver inflammation in fatty liver disease patients and a substantial weight loss may prevent the progression of the disease to cirrhosis,” said Dr. Fimmel, who is leading a new clinical trial at NorthShore that will help patients lose weight and control their disease.
The study builds on NorthShore’s successful weight loss programs including its dedicated weight management clinic and a ketogenic diet program. “We have seen excellent results with both programs in our fatty liver disease patients,” said Dr. Fimmel.
Patients who enroll in the two-year study will be randomly assigned to one of the two programs and will be followed regularly with routine monitoring of their liver disease. The ketogenic diet features a commercial product called “Ideal Protein”.
“From a patient perspective this is a win win. If you are motivated to lose weight and improve your health you will get a strategy that works. You will receive a lot of extra attention and support from your research team,” said Dr. Fimmel.
Interested in participating?
For more information or to take part in the NASH study, please contact the study coordinator, Lauredana C. Huma, PhD, at 847.570.3558.