Yes, You CAN Inherit Fatty Liver. Well, Sort Of
Like other conditions making the news over the past decade or so, NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) and its growth have been alternately attributed to negative lifestyle choices or to invisible scientific forces we don’t yet fully understand.
Which is the truth? One group of researchers says they’ve isolated a constituent that could nudge possibilities in the direction of heritability. But that may not be the full story. Read on.
Debate: Is It Nature or Nurture?
For years, health conditions related to weight have been a hot spot, triggering a very sensitive issue.
Nobody wants to be accused of causing his or her health condition. Would a person accuse another person of giving him- or herself cancer, for instance? Or autism?
On the other hand, being related to an extent on weight (there is a correlation), NAFLD seems to be fair game for finger-wagging. That’s because of our now becoming-global issue with weight gain and obesity, and with older ideas about weight being a moral issue.
In the midst of the bickering, scientists are beginning to seek out medical reasons for issues such as NAFLD – or at least, factors that may contribute. Enter heredity, one of the first things that’s often looked at when an upswing of any condition makes headlines. They note that both nature and nurture could have a hand in the near-epidemic that’s NAFLD in first-world nations, with the U.S. and the UK in the lead.
A Piece to the Puzzle? Serum Metabolites
Now University of California, San Diego researchers are saying serum metabolites may offer a clue, and it’s one that sides with heredity: namely, serum metabolites associated with an NAFLD condition may be passed down via genetics.
Their paper, Heritability of serum metabolites associated with Fatty Liver, showed a set of serum metabolites are heritable (passed down genetically) and are linked to both NAFLD and metabolic syndrome, which involves a constellation of red-flag conditions.
According to the team, which was led by Rohit Loomba, MD, director of the NAFLD Research Center at the UC San Diego, the novel serum metabolite phenyllactate has a shared gene effect with NAFLD.
Cyrielle Caussy, MD, PhD, an endocrinologist from Lyon 1 University and a visiting scholar at the NAFLD Research Center, presented the findings at The Liver Meeting, a caucus held by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases.
“If a serum metabolite is heritable and has a shared gene effect with NAFLD, then it could be a useful biomarker of the disease and could potentially be targeted to improve NAFLD in the future,” Dr. Caussy told reporters.
Conducting the Research
For the study, 156 Southern California residents – including 37 identical twins, 13 fraternal twins, and 28 sets of sibling/sibling and parent/offspring pairs – were monitored via MRI and had their serum metabolites assessed.
Thirty-six group participants were found to have NAFLD. Researchers note that 713 serum metabolites in total were analyzed; among those, 440 were found to be heritable. Out of this sub-group, 56 serum metabolites had a shared gene effect with NAFLD after adjustments accounting for age, sex, and ethnicity.
The Findings (And Their Presentation)
“We found that the novel serum metabolite, phenyllactate (derived from gut‐biome), had a significant shared gene effect with NAFLD,” Dr. Caussy revealed. “This suggests a potential link between genetics and gut‐microbiome in the development of NAFLD and provides evidence that several serum metabolites associated with NAFLD are heritable.”
So what’s next?
“Our next goal is to validate these findings across the entire spectrum of NAFLD, and assess if phenyllactate decreases with the improvement of NAFLD treatments,” Dr. Loomba told reporters.
An explanation of the study’s parameters and the researchers’ findings were presented on Oct. 21 in Washington, D.C. An abstract can be found at Hepatology.
Inevitable or Avoidable?
Even with a genetic component, it would seem that NAFLD chances can be minimized by lifestyle changes, since so many studies have shown that weight gain and loss correspond to an increasing or decreasing NAFLD status in a majority (greater than 50%) of complaint patients.
If you suspect or have been diagnosed with NAFLD, make positive lifestyle changes that correspond with your physician’s instructions, such as getting regular exercise, making diet and sleep changes, and being monitored regularly for news on your condition.