The Connection Between Diabetes & Liver Disease That Most People Miss

What Is Diabetes?

About 70% of Americans are affected by different forms of diabetes, a group of diseases where patients either have issues producing insulin in the pancreas or difficulty properly responding to insulin.

The different types are as follows:

  • Type 1 Diabetes – Formerly known as juvenile diabetes or insulin-dependent diabetes, type 1 diabetes is when the pancreas produces little or no insulin. It is usually brought on by genetics and some viruses. Typically it appears in childhood but can develop later in life.
  • Type 2 Diabetes – Formerly known as adult-onset or noninsulin-dependent diabetes, type 2 diabetes is a condition where your body has difficulty metabolizing glucose, an important fuel source. Compared to type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes is considerably more prevalent in adults but can be found in children.

While most people associate diabetes with the pancreas and kidney disease, one organ they tend to overlook is the liver.

But the truth is that those afflicted with diabetes find themselves at an increased risk of various liver diseases.

In fact, diabetics are twice as likely to have liver disease than they are to have cardiovascular issues.

Diabetes and Liver Disease

One ailment most affiliated with diabetes is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition where excessive amounts of fat build up in the liver. It affects people who drink little or no alcohol and appears in at least half of those with type 2 diabetes.

Although NAFLD has no specific symptoms, it does lead to other risks in the liver, including:

  • scarring (cirrhosis)
  • and inflammation

Studies have shown that patients suffering from diabetes have had increased cases of severe fibrosis. Similarly, cirrhosis has been the cause of death for 12.5 percent of diabetic patients.

Other diseases associated with NAFLD include:

  • liver cancer
  • heart disease
  • and kidney disease

On the flip side, those with NAFLD who don’t have diabetes do stand a risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This is why it is vital to look after your liver, especially if you have diabetes.

What Links Diabetes With Liver Disease?

There are a variety of reasons contributing to the connection between diabetes and liver disease.

  1. One reason is that the liver is vital when it comes to regulating fat and blood sugar. When there starts to be a buildup of fat, it becomes harder for the liver to control glucose levels, thus creating complications with diabetes.
  1. Beyond diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can cause other diabetes adjacent ailments including insulin resistance and prediabetes, making things harder for the pancreas to function.

Treatment

It is important that those diagnosed with diabetes – as well of those in danger of being diagnosed (prediabetes) – take precautions to make sure their liver is in healthy working order.

There are several steps you can take in order to defend yourself against a fatty liver. You will need to meet with a healthcare professional to find the best course of action, but there are also lifestyle changes you can make on your own to put yourself on a healthier path.

  • Health Care – Meet with a physician to see the best plan of action to live healthier and control your blood sugar levels. Beyond more advanced treatments, they may also suggest taking certain common over the counter prescriptions to control different issues.
    • Statins – Can help lower cholesterol to prevent risks of stroke, heart attack, and NAFLD. Statins may cause a slight increase in liver enzymes, but cases of liver damage or failure are extremely rare.
    • ACE Inhibitors – Used to help lower blood pressure, also shown to benefit the kidney as well as protect you from heart disease. Although they have shown signs of liver irritation, it has also been known to help fight NAFLD.
  • Lifestyle Changes
    • Exercise – Work out and lose weight to avoid fat building up.
    • Diet – Similar to exercising, cutting out fatty foods and sugars while eating more clean grains, fruits, and vegetables will help you maintain a healthy weight and avoid fat building in your liver. Along with keeping weight off, dieting will help lower cholesterol which will also reduce fat build up.
    • Quit Smoking – By no longer adding carcinogens into your body, you will be able to live a healthier life. Plus it’s a dirty habit.
    • Stop/Limit Drinking Alcohol – Your liver will work better when it does not need to deal with filtering alcohol through your system.
    • Take Vitamins and Supplements – Find the right vitamins and supplements that work for you to help you maintain a healthier lifestyle.

Consult with your physician on the best plan of action to defend yourself from fatty liver disease, especially if you have diabetes or are currently at risk of getting it.

 

Sources

 

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Curry, Andrew. “Fatty Liver and Type 2 Diabetes.” Diabetes Forecast, May 2012, www.diabetesforecast.org/2012/may/fatty-liver-and-type-2-diabetes.html.

“Insulin Resistance & Prediabetes.” National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 1 May 2018, www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/diabetes/overview/what-is-diabetes/prediabetes-insulin-resistance.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme (ACE) Inhibitors: Medications to Lower Blood Pressure.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 6 Apr. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/ace-inhibitors/art-20047480.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Statin Side Effects: Weigh the Benefits and Risks.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 26 Apr. 2016, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-cholesterol/in-depth/statin-side-effects/art-20046013.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Type 1 Diabetes.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 7 Aug. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-1-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20353011.

Mayo Clinic Staff. “Type 2 Diabetes.” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 15 Sept. 2018, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/type-2-diabetes/symptoms-causes/syc-20351193.

Tolman, Keith G., et al. “Spectrum of Liver Disease in Type 2 Diabetes and Management of Patients With Diabetes and Liver Disease.” Diabetes Care, American Diabetes Association, 1 Mar. 2007, care.diabetesjournals.org/content/30/3/734.

Trence, Dace L. “What Everyone With Diabetes Should Know About Liver Disease.” Empoweryouthealth.org, www.empoweryourhealth.org/magazine/vol9_issue1/what_everyone_with_diabetes_should_know_about_liver_disease.

“Type 2 Diabetes Guide.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diabetes/type-2-diabetes-guide/default.htm.

“WebMD Diabetes Center: Types, Causes, Symptoms, Tests, and Treatments.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diabetes/default.htm.

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