Typically women have been protected from risk of cardiovascular disease and stroke. Many researchers believe that estrogen hormones enhance the protective effect, while testosterone provides a risk in men. But recent studies have found that women with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) are exempt from the protective effect. In fact, women with the disease have more risk factors for cardiovascular disease than men with NAFLD. This phenomenon brings great awareness to the fact that every system in our body is linked. The link between gut health and anxiety and depression is widely accepted and now we learn that the cardiovascular system’s health relies on a healthy gut. It’s important to be aware of how the two are linked, and if you have been diagnosed with NAFLD, be sure your doctor is also monitoring your risk for heart disease.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a common disorder where fat accumulates in the liver of someone who does not drink alcohol. One in four Americans have been diagnosed with NAFLD. Traditionally, this is not a serious diagnosis and while it is not normal for fat to reside in the liver, it will not damage your liver. NAFLD is considered a byproduct of obesity, diabetes, high cholesterol and triglycerides, or high blood pressure. There are typically no symptoms associated with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, but those diagnosed will be encouraged to lose excess weight, increase their physical activity, and adopt a healthy, low-fat diet. Managing these things may help keep NAFLD in check and prevent more fat from settling in the liver.
Doctors began noticing a trend between nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease when patients with NAFLD died from heart disease rather than liver disease. In a recent research project at the Mayo Clinic, women with NAFLD appeared to have higher cardiovascular risks through increased hypertension, diabetes, and a higher BMI (body mass index) compared to men with NAFLD. This is alarming since women in the general public are 23% less likely than men to have any cardiovascular events. Cardiovascular events include chest pain, heart attack, heart failure, and stroke. The liver is the largest organ in the body with many crucial roles such as converting food to fuel, processing cholesterol, clearing toxins in the blood, and creating proteins that tell your blood to clot. With a great amount of fat content in the liver, the body may be processing fatty deposits that add plaque to your heart and clog your arteries which leads to heart attack or stroke.
For those diagnosed with NAFLD, the number one goal is to lower the fat content in the liver. A study through JAMA Internal Medicine found that those who lost 3% to 6% of their body weight lowered the fat content in their liver by 35%. Exercise is key to reducing fat content in the liver, even if you are unable to lose weight. Try starting with 90 minutes of aerobic exercise each week to bring your liver into a healthier light. Diet is equally as important. People with NAFLD are given the same dietary restrictions as someone who is at risk for heart disease. This diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein like fish and chicken. Limiting sugar intake, alcohol consumption, saturated fats, and anything made with white flour will help keep your gut—and your heart—healthy.
If you have trouble losing weight, Carolina Digestive Health Associates now offers the Orbera weight loss balloon to help you manage your food intake and lose the excess pounds. If you want to hear more about Orbera and find out if NAFLD puts you at risk for heart disease, schedule an appointment at one of our eight locations today. Don’t let the effects of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease sneak up on you and damage your heart. We’re committed to helping you get wholly healthy.