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African-Americans Less Prone to Fatty Liver Disease

By Daniel H. Rasolt

Posted: Saturday, March 28, 2009

(Defeat Diabetes® News) -- Despite being at higher risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease, African-Americans are in fact at lower risk for fatty liver disease. In a recent study, which compared Hispanics (whom are also at higher risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease) and African-Americans, it was observed that due to differing locations of fat storage in the body, African-Americans have a significantly lower incidence of fatty liver disease.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) results from high triglyceride levels in the liver, and afflicts nearly one-third of adults in the United States. Obesity, diabetes (or it's predecessor, insulin resistance) and heart disease, are also extremely prevalent in the United States, and these three conditions have all been connected to NAFLD in past research.

As mentioned above, African-Americans and Hispanics are two ethnic groups significantly more at risk for obesity, diabetes and heart disease, compared to Caucasians, but Hispanics develop NAFLD more frequently than African-Americans. The current study aimed to discover why this is the case, which they did through blood analysis of over 2100 African-Americans and Hispanics.

In accordance with past research, both groups were observed to have diabetes rates of approximately 21%, and obesity rates of 48%, both substantially higher than Caucasians. Hispanics, however, were observed to have a 45% NAFLD incidence, compared to only 23% of African-Americans.

As a potential explanation, it was noted that African-Americans had lower levels of abdominal fat and lower triglyceride levels as well, than Hispanics, as well as Caucasians. In other words, Hispanics most often store fat in the belly, while African-Americans store more fat in what's called subcutaneous adipose tissues, which describes the areas around the hips and thighs. Says senior author Dr. Jeffrey Browning, "This may be protective. In animal studies, if subcutaneous fat is increased as opposed to visceral fat, you can actually reverse fatty liver disease.”

While this research, concerning specifics, is in its early stages, the hope is that further knowledge of how and why African-Americans store fat in different locations, subsequently helping prevent NAFLD, will lay the foundations for preventative treatments for NAFLD in other ethnic groups. Says Dr. Browning, "If we can identify the factors that protect African-Americans from this liver disease, we may be able to extrapolate those to other populations and perhaps develop targeted therapies to help populations prone to NAFLD."

Source: Defeat Diabetes Foundation: Browning, Jeffrey. Ladson, LaKisha. Southwestern Medical Center news release. March 2009.

Daniel H. Rasolt writes for Defeat Diabetes® News. Read more of his original content articles.

Copyright © 2009 Defeat Diabetes Foundation, Inc. All rights reserved.

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