Difference in Fat Storage May Explain Lower Rate of Liver Disease in African Americans

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Difference in Fat Storage May Explain Lower Rate of Liver Disease in African Americans

Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center are hoping to pinpoint what it is that naturally protects African-Americans from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and then use the answer in hope of helping others.

One possible explanation may already be known.

Research findings released in the March issue of Hepatology indicate it may all come down to where different ethnic groups store fat in their bodies. Verifying this, doctors say, could lead to developing therapies for those most at risk for the disease.

The research began in 2000, with UT doctors analyzing extensive bodily data gathered from the Dallas Heart Study, a multi-ethnic and population-based test group of more than 2,100 people.

The study found that African-Americans and Hispanics shared identical rates of obesity and diabetes. But 45 percent of the Hispanic participants developed non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, whereas only 23 percent of African-Americans did.

This inflammatory disease, which isn’t fatal, is characterized by high levels of triglycerides in the liver and affects more than 30 percent of American adults of all races. In some extreme cases, the untreated fatty liver can lead to hepatitis or cirrhosis – both of which can be deadly.

The UT studies suggest that African-Americans are much less prone to developing the problem of a fatty liver, since they are less prone to storing high levels of fat in the abdominal and liver area. Instead, they predominantly store fat in areas around the hips and thighs.

Sources say the next step in this research will be to examine exactly how this liver disease is affected by different metabolisms.

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