Researchers reviewed MRI scans from 32,859 people that took a close look at the size of their liver, as well as pancreas. The investigators relied on a type of method used to measure gene function in order to examine cause and effect, known as Mendelian randomization.
Not only did the scientists learn that individuals who are genetically predisposed to storing fat in the liver were more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but every 5% increase in liver fat was shown to raise this risk by 27%.
“Our results encourage better treatment of those living with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), and provide evidence for the multiple benefits of weight loss and better screening for diabetes risk in these people,” stated lead study author Dr. Hanieh Yaghootkar in a press release.
The Cleveland Clinic defines NAFLD as a condition that occurs in one in three adults who are not heavy drinkers. While the cause of this type of liver disease in unknown, obesity and diabetes are considered likely risk factors.
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“I am not surprised by these findings since NAFLD has been shown to be a key factor in insulin resistance,” says Erin Palinski-Wade, RD, CDE, LDN, CPT, a New Jersey-based nutrition consultant and author of 2 Day Diabetes Diet. “It makes sense that even small amounts of fat buildup on the liver would, in turn, elevate insulin resistance, and therefore, risk of type 2 diabetes.”
Furthermore, she believes this current study offers tremendous value since it points to the importance of focusing on the prevention of excess fatty tissue in the liver—which centers around your diet. “Some research suggests that coffee can be protective against damage to the liver from fat buildup. So, if tolerated, drinking up to two cups per day may be beneficial,” states Palinski-Wade.
However, she quickly adds that stirring in sugar and cream “may accelerate fat gains in the liver. Instead, enjoy coffee black or sweeten with flavorings, such as cinnamon or vanilla extract.”
Along with reducing overall sugar intake, Palinski-Wade also advises limiting alcohol consumption. “Following a Mediterranean-style of eating rich in plant-based fats, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fatty fish may be the best strategy at reducing fat in the liver,” she says.
Plus, consider placing more fiber-rich foods—like broccoli, berries, apples, as well as plenty of leafy greens and pulses—on your plate. “Fiber may help to reduce fat deposits in the liver while also helping to promote steady blood glucose levels and fight against insulin resistance,” says Palinski-Wade.
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