University of Southern California study links fast food consumption to liver disease

A new study from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California has linked regular fast food consumption to life-threatening liver disease.

The study published this week posits that fast food consumption may increase the risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which causes fatty buildup in the liver.

While regular fast food consumption has been linked to obesity and diabetes, researchers say this is one of the first studies to show a negative impact on the liver as well.

In the study, researchers found that people with obesity or diabetes who also eat 20% of their daily calories from fast food have very high levels of liver fat compared to same subset of people who eat less fast food or avoid it altogether.

Among the general population, those who get 20% of their daily calories from fast food also experience a moderate increase in liver fat compared to those who don’t eat as much fast food.

Ani Kardashian, the study’s lead author and assistant professor of medicine in gastroenterology and liver disease, said healthy livers typically contain a small amount of fat, but even the slightest increase in fat can lead to fatty liver disease. alcoholic.

“The large increase in liver fat in people who are obese or diabetic is particularly striking, and likely due to the fact that these conditions lead to a greater susceptibility to fat accumulation in the liver,” Kardashian wrote.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from the study is that even a modest amount of regular fast food consumption can lead to disease.

“If people eat one meal a day at a fast food restaurant, they may think they’re doing no harm,” Kardashian said. “However, if that meal is at least a fifth of their daily calories, they are putting their liver at risk.”

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can lead to cirrhosis or scarring of the liver. Cirrhosis can lead to liver cancer or even liver failure. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is estimated to affect more than 30% of the US population.

Kardashian said the findings are particularly alarming because fast food consumption has increased dramatically over the past 50 years across all walks of life.

“We’ve also seen a substantial increase in fast food meals during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is likely related to the decline of full-service restaurants and rising rates of food insecurity,” Kardashian said. “We are concerned that the number of people with fatty liver disease has increased further since the time of the survey.”

To learn more about the study, including the methodology used, click here.

Researchers hope the study results will encourage healthcare providers to offer more nutrition education, especially to people who are obese or diabetic and at increased risk of developing fatty liver disease, the only treatment for which is diet. improved.

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