There’s a “non” in Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. That means drinking should be fine. Right?
Not so fast, say Japanese researchers at Kumamoto University. Alcohol consumption results in a specific aldehyde, they say, which can worsen an NAFLD condition, or create one where before, liver health was apparently up to snuff – IF you’re deficient in a certain enzyme. Read on.
The Enzyme That Caused All the Fuss
Aldehydes are chemical compounds caused by the oxidation of alcohol. Specifically, acetylaldehyde, a toxic compound, is released when alcohol is consumed.
In normal-health, non-alcoholic individuals, an enzyme, Aldehyde dehydrogenase 2 (ALDH2), breaks down the acetylaldehyde. But the Kumamoto University researchers said some individuals may be deficient in ALDH2 – which means when they consume alcohol, it remains toxic to the body.
In fact, in the study, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) was twice as likely in participants low in ALDH2 (or who had low ALDH2 activity) compared to normal-ALDH2 patients.
An Occasional Drink? Maybe Not
This means individuals low in ALDH2 are more at risk for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFDL) than the norm. It’s a surprising revelation, since NAFLD has, as the name implies, always been divided from alcoholic fatty liver disease by its apparently not having been caused by alcohol overconsumption.
But in some individuals, the two can be related, the Japanese study suggests. The difference is that some NAFLD patients may not be able to consume any alcohol at all without potential negative effects.
Are You at Risk?
ALDH2 activity lab tests are not commonly handed out by doctors to their patients, so it may be difficult – or impossible – to tell that you’re in the low-activity ALDH2 group.
Researchers noted that the condition may be more prevalent among East Asian patients, which may have partially prompted the study.
But it’s likely there are other groups, as well as isolated cases, of people suffering from a low-activity ALDH2 condition.
Ask your doctor whether she recommends that you cut alcohol completely out of your diet. If you go this route, see what tests you can be given within six months and then at a year (or whatever time frame your physician recommends). If you see improvement without alcohol in your diet, stay the course.
Non-Drinkers and Low ALDH2
Hang on tight…there’s more not-so-great news: even non-drinkers may be more at risk for NAFLD if they too are deficient in the necessary enzyme.
But don’t despair. NAFLD is, according to current research, far more common when combined with risk factors, such as an overweight, sedentary condition and poor diet overall, no matter what genetic factors are at play.
This means an active, healthy lifestyle may help waylay NAFLD (or help heal it, if it’s already been diagnosed) even if the chips seem to be stacked against the patient.
Embark on and maintain a healthy lifestyle for your best chance of beating NAFLD. You CAN tilt the odds in your favor. Remember to always ask your doctor before radically changing your diet or embarking on a rigorous exercise program. Good luck and good health, now and in the future.