It’s no secret that fast foods contain substantial amounts of saturated fat. These are often in fast-food burgers and other items, and the saturated fat predisposes the body to store more fat in the liver. In fact, people who suffer from diabetes or obesity are most likely to eventually develop potentially life-threatening liver damage. They often follow a daily diet of at least 20 percent fast food.
Health experts have been talking about this. They are the ones most aware of how fast food can increase the chances of developing type 2 diabetes and coronary heart disease. Now, new research has added to that list because they found that regular consumption of fast-food burgers, fries, pizza, and other similar items may actually be the culprit behind nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. This disease is a potentially life-threatening condition because fat accumulates in the liver.
An analysis of the health data from 4,000 adults was made and these individuals were asked to provide measurements of their fatty liver. The report is available in the most recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (from 2017–18). The scientists and health experts saw that those who were obese or diabetic and who take in one-fifth or more of their daily calories from fast food have demonstrated extremely elevated levels of fat in the liver. The numbers of those who ate less or no fast food had significantly lower counts.
When it comes to the diet, this consists of at least 20 percent fast food, and those who were guilty of this were linked to moderate increases in liver fat.
Many Ate Fast Food on a Daily Basis
“We were surprised to find how damaging fast food can be to the liver, especially among people who have diabetes or obesity,” said lead study author Ani Kardashian, MD. She is a hepatologist with Keck Medicine of USC. “I think most people are probably not aware that eating fast foods and an unhealthy diet can cause liver problems. Fatty liver is a major public health problem, which can lead to cirrhosis [the development of scar tissue in the liver], liver failure, and liver cancer.”
As for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), this is also known as liver steatosis. This refers to a condition in which excess fat has accumulated in the liver. Ironically, the disease is not linked to alcohol use. The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases estimated that about one-quarter of U.S. adults suffer from NAFLD and that this often happens to those who are obese or who have type 2 diabetes.
More than 50 percent of the people surveyed consumed some fast food, and out of all of the half, 29 percent got a fifth or more of their daily calories from fast food. The increase in liver fat levels was only seen in the latter.
Diabetes or Obesity – More Vulnerable to Liver Disease
Dr. Kardashian talked about this in more detail and said that by taking in bigger amounts of saturated fats and processed sweeteners, which is what’s common in fast food, the body is more predisposed to accumulating liver fat. This worsened in those who suffer from insulin resistance, which is a sign of prediabetes and type 2 diabetes, a disease that causes abnormal amounts of excess liver fat to deposit.
“This is probably why people with diabetes and obesity are particularly susceptible to the negative impacts of fatty liver,” she said.
The Rising in Fast Food Diet is Alarming
The researchers were alarmed by the findings they made because they saw how fast-food consumption has increased significantly in the past 50 years, and this is notwithstanding the socioeconomic status of the person. They also saw how fast-food dining went up in the recent COVID-19 pandemic. They saw how the number of people who have been diagnosed with fatty livers may have increased even more since they conducted the survey.
“My hope is that this study encourages people to seek out more nutritious, healthy food options and provides information that clinicians can use to counsel their patients, particularly those with underlying metabolic risk factors, of the importance of avoiding foods that are high in fat, carbohydrates, and processed sugars to protect their liver,” said Kardashian. “At a policy level, public health efforts are needed to improve access to affordable, healthy, and nutritious food options across the U.S,” he added.
The study authors said that future research should hone in on how healthy food interventions for those who suffer from metabolic conditions may reverse the condition or even improve fatty liver.