In France, an estimated 10 million people are affected by a more or less severe form of “fatty liver disease” or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which causes excessive accumulation of fat in the liver due to a diet too high in fats and sugars. According to several recent studies, this non-alcoholic fatty liver represents an important risk factor for the occurrence of certain types of cancer.
We are all familiar with the obvious aspects of overweight and obesity, which are easily revealed by excessive accumulation of fat in adipose tissue. What is less well known, however, is that there is also an invisible form of obesity, in which certain internal organs such as the liver can become overloaded with fat.
This accumulation of excess fat in the liver, known medically as non-alcoholic fatty liver (to distinguish it from liver damage from excessive alcohol), is directly related to a diet that is too high in sugar and fat. This “fatty liver” is very dangerous because the excess liver fat triggers a strong inflammatory response that triggers the production of connective tissue to seal the damage, causing scarring (fibrosis) that disrupts blood flow to the organ and can result in cirrhosis over time Time. At this stage, the function of the liver is irreversibly impaired and only a transplant of the organ can save the life of the affected person. It is estimated that fatty liver disease caused by overeating will become the leading cause of liver transplantation in the years to come.
‘Human fatty liver’ increases cancer risk by 32%
Two recent studies suggest that fatty liver also has a major impact on the risk of certain types of cancer. In the first, conducted on a cohort of 25,947 people, a team of South Korean scientists found that people with steatosis in general had a 32% higher risk of developing cancer than those without excess fat in the liver had .
This increase is particularly pronounced in the most common form of liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma) with a 17-fold increased risk, but is also seen in colon cancer in men and breast cancer in women (both double increases). The authors observed a strong correlation between this increase in cancer risk and the presence of fibrosis in the liver, suggesting that the strong hepatic inflammatory response in response to excess fat may contribute to tumor development.
Being overweight should be taken seriously
Another mechanism involved in the progression from hepatic steatosis to hepatocellular carcinoma was recently identified in a study published in the prestigious journal Cancer Cell. A team of Swiss scientists has shown that liver cells have an enzyme (mTORC2) that induces the production of large amounts of fat essential for cancer cell growth, namely sphingolipids (present in the membrane of these cells) and cardiolipins (present in the mitochondria and essential for energy production).
This phenomenon most likely plays an important role in tumor progression, since analysis of biopsies from patients with hepatocellular carcinoma shows overactivation of the function of the enzyme mTORC2. These observations show that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a very serious condition that should be taken very seriously. Anyone who is severely obese should be aware that they are at risk of developing this disorder even if they are not experiencing any symptoms.
Protecting the liver protects health, a few simple tips
Fortunately, fatty liver, like all complications arising from overweight and obesity, is closely linked to lifestyle and is therefore preventable. With that in mind, avoiding excessive consumption of industrial foods high in fat and sugar is certainly essential to reducing the loss of liver function associated with excess fat. A diet mostly based on plant-based products is an excellent alternative, especially since recent findings suggest that high consumption of red meat and processed meat is also associated with an increased risk of fatty liver disease.
Kim GA et al. Association between nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and cancer incidence rate. J. Hepatol. 2018; 68:140-146.
Guri Y et al. mTORC2 promotes tumor development via lipid synthesis. cancer cell 2017; 32:807-823.
Zelber-Sagi S et al. High consumption of red and processed meat has been linked to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and insulin resistance. J. Hepatol. 2018; 68:1239-1246.
* Presse Santé strives to convey health knowledge in a language accessible to all. In NO CASE can the information given replace the advice of a doctor.
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Cancer Human fatty liver major disease non-alcoholic hepatic steatosis