Spike in alcoholic fatty liver disease

Women are more vulnerable to the disease

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Atul Kumar Sood, VSM (Retd), HOD & Director – Hepatic & Digestive Sciences, Sarvodaya Hospital, Faridabad

The incidence of alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD) is spiking in India due to the steadily rising consumption of alcohol, a medical expert has warned. The disease that develops when excess fat accumulates in the liver can lead to liver inflammation, scarring, and even liver failure.

Dr Atul Kumar Sood, VSM, HOD & director – Hepatic & Digestive Sciences, Sarvodaya Hospital, Faridabad said: “India has been experiencing a significant increase in alcohol consumption in recent years. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the per capita alcohol consumption in the country has more than doubled from 2.4 liters in 2005 to 5.7 liters in 2016. The main reasons are peer pressure and drinking perceived by many people as a status symbol and sign of manhood. A huge number of people also take to drinking to cope with stress and anxiety. The easy availability of alcohol, especially in rural areas, is adding to the rise in alcohol consumption.”

Sood adds “Some people are more vulnerable to AFLD than others because of metabolic & genetic factors. Heavy drinkers are at the highest risk. Obese people or those with a high body mass index (BMI) are also susceptible. Those with diabetes face a higher risk of AFLD and, conversely, people with AFLD have a higher risk of developing diabetes. The risk also rises as one becomes older. Poorly nourished people also are more vulnerable to liver damage. Moreover, women are at an increased risk of developing AFLD, as their bodies metabolize alcohol differently than men.”

AFLD can be asymptomatic in the early stages. As the disease progresses, common symptoms include fatigue and weakness (even after getting enough sleep), a lack of desire to eat, pain or discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen, nausea and vomiting (especially after eating), swelling in the legs and abdomen, and jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes). AFLD is diagnosed through blood tests, imaging tests, and a liver biopsy. 

The good news is that AFLD is entirely preventable if steps are taken to reduce the risks. Sood said: “The most effective way to prevent this disease is to limit one’s alcohol consumption. According to WHO, men should limit their alcohol intake to no more than two standard drinks per day, and women no more than one standard drink per day. One should avoid binge drinking and give the liver time to recover between drinking sessions.”

“A healthy diet can help prevent AFLD. Avoid foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt. Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein. Regular exercise is also very important. It can help you maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of developing other health problems that can contribute to AFLD,” said the doctor. “Stress can contribute to alcohol consumption, which can increase the risk of AFLD. Managing stress through activities like yoga, meditation, or pranayama is helpful. Regular preventive health check-ups can help detect AFLD in its early stages.”

For patients with AFLD, medications may be prescribed to manage symptoms and reduce the risk of liver damage. In severe cases, a liver transplant may be necessary.

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