Weight Loss Surgery may Reverse Obesity-Related Liver Disease

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A new study shows that weight loss surgery may resolve obesity-related, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

That’s the finding of a team of researchers at the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston, led by Dr. Gagan Sood, in a report published in the December 2008 issue of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease comes in two varieties: steatosis, or fatty liver, which is characterized by the accumulation of fat within the liver, and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis – NASH, for short – which is known for causing liver inflammation and in some cases the formation of fibrous tissue within the liver.

Both varieties pose risks to a patient’s health, but NASH is the more serious of the two – over time, it can turn into cirrhosis or even liver cancer. The bad news is that about 95% of morbidly obese people have some form of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

But, the good news is that bariatric surgery can substantially improve markers of metabolic syndrome, which is often associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. And, recent studies have demonstrated that obesity-related liver disease improves significantly after bariatric surgery.

In the meta-study at UT, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease was completely resolved in more than 80% of the patients after their bariatric surgery.

Three out of four in the survey also saw significant improvement in their liver fibrosis, and 70% had complete resolution of nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.

It’s worth noting, however, that the study involved less than 1000 patients, and the researchers –while hopeful – warn that only a large-scale controlled clinical study can conclusively prove or disprove a link between weight loss surgery and a reversal of obesity-related liver disease.

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