Fat in liver, not belly, could determine heart disease risk

WASHINGTON - Measuring liver fat may be a better way to determine a person’s risk for developing diabetes and heart disease than measuring belly fat, according to researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Having too much liver fat is known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

The researchers say that when fat collects in the liver, people experience serious metabolic problems such as insulin resistance, which affects the body’s ability to metabolize sugar.

They also have increases in production of fat particles in the liver that are secreted into the bloodstream and increase the level of triglycerides.

For years, scientists have noted that where individuals carried body fat influences their metabolic and cardiovascular risk.

Increased fat inside the belly, known as visceral fat, is linked to an higher risk of diabetes and heart disease.

“Data from a large number of studies shows that visceral fat is associated with metabolic risk, which has led to the belief that visceral fat might even cause metabolic dysfunction,” says study’s lead author Samuel Klein.

“However, visceral fat tracks closely with liver fat. We have found that excess fat in the liver, not visceral fat, is a key marker of metabolic dysfunction. Visceral fat might simply be an innocent bystander that is associated with liver fat,” he added.

Klein says most of our body fat, called subcutaneous fat, is located under our skin, but about 10 percent is present inside the belly, while much smaller amounts are found inside organs such as the liver and muscle.

In the study, the researchers compared obese people with elevated and normal amounts of liver fat. All subjects were matched by age, sex, body mass index; percent body fat and degree of obesity.

Through careful evaluations of obese people with different amounts of visceral fat or liver fat, Klein’s team determined that excess fat inside the liver identifies those individuals who are at risk for metabolic problems.

The study has been published online in the journal PNAS Early Edition. (ANI)

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