Family History of Diabetes Linked to Liver Disease

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Family History of Diabetes Linked to Liver Disease

A family history of diabetes may increase the risk for developing nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) even in people who don’t develop diabetes, according to a new study published in the Journal of Diabetes and its Complications.

In recent years, a number of studies have highlighted the dangerous link between diabetes and liver disease, particularly NAFLD — which is characterized by an increase in liver fat and other changes to liver tissue. NAFLD is more common in people with both type 2 diabetes and obesity, and has been linked to a higher risk for poor health outcomes, including death. Some studies suggest that undiagnosed NAFLD may be common in people with type 2 diabetes, and that currently recommended screening tests don’t adequately detect the condition in many people. There are steps people can take to help prevent NAFLD, including getting enough physical activity, taking certain medications, losing weight — including through bariatric surgery, if warranted — and even drinking coffee.

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For the latest study, researchers set out to look at the relationship between having a first-degree relative (a parent, child, or sibling) with diabetes, and the risk for developing NAFLD — as well as whether a person’s own diabetes status affected this risk. The participants were 11,162 people with an average age of 56, including 9,870 people without a first-degree family history of diabetes and 1,292 people who had a first-degree relative with diabetes. Participants had their diabetes status and NAFLD status evaluated as part of the study.

First-degree relative with diabetes linked to increased risk for NAFLD

The researchers found that even after adjusting for other factors known to affective risk for NAFLD, having a first-degree relative with diabetes was independently linked to the risk for both NAFLD and elevated liver fat that isn’t severe enough to qualify as NAFLD. What’s more, a person’s own diabetes status — having diabetes or prediabetes — was also independently linked to the risk for NAFLD or elevated liver fat. In other words, even if you have a first-degree relative with diabetes — which increases your risk for NAFLD — your risk for NAFLD is lower if you don’t have diabetes yourself than if you do.

Not surprisingly, people with a first-degree relative with diabetes were also more likely to have elevated fasting glucose themselves — but only 10.2% more likely, as noted in a Healio article on the study. They were also 7.1% more likely to have elevated triglycerides, and 0.4% more likely to have elevated liver fat.

“Regardless of [diabetes status], first-degree relatives of patients with diabetes were more susceptible to NAFLD,” the researchers concluded. “Therefore, for first-degree relatives of patients with diabetes, even in the absence of diabetes, it is important to screen and prevent NAFLD.”

Want to learn more about protecting your liver? Read “Diabetes and NAFLD” and “Preventing Fatty Liver (NAFLD).”

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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