November is National Diabetes Month. Learn how closely liver disease and diabetes are connected.
Mass education campaigns have helped increase our awareness of the connection between poor lifestyle habits and Type II Diabetes, but few realize how they also affect the liver’s health. The association between diabetes and liver disease is not coincidental; in fact, the two health conditions may just be different sides of the same metabolic coin.
Type II Diabetes
Also referred to as adult onset diabetes and non-insulin dependent diabetes, Type II diabetes is a chronic condition that affects the way the body metabolizes sugar (glucose).
Those with Type II diabetes have a problem with insulin – a hormone released by the pancreas that regulates the movement of sugar into the cells. Type II diabetics belong to one of the following two categories:
- Their body resists the effects of insulin.
- Their body doesn’t produce enough insulin to maintain a normal glucose level.
Diabetes leads to high blood glucose levels, a problem that can have a wide range of consequences, and some are life-threatening. Several examples include:
- Cardiovascular disease – which can lead to heart attack or stroke
- Nerve damage – which can lead to sensation loss and/or dementia
- Kidney damage – which can lead to kidney failure
- Eye damage – which can lead to blindness
- Infection of the foot – which can lead to amputation
Those who have Type II diabetes must monitor their blood glucose levels and may need medication to keep those levels steady. In addition, lifestyle factors like eating healthy and exercising regularly are crucial for a diabetic’s wellness.
Located in the upper right abdomen, the liver is our body’s largest internal organ. The liver is responsible for an estimated 500 jobs in human physiology; its ability to function is a requirement for life. Besides being our body’s detoxification center, the liver is also involved in fat digestion, hormone production and making and storing glucose.
Liver disease is a broad term that covers all the potential problems causing liver cell damage, which can impair the liver’s ability to perform its designated functions. The liver is the only organ in the body that can easily replace damaged cells. However, repeated liver cell damage can result in permanent injury to this valued organ. Liver tissue scarring is known as fibrosis, while fibrosis that has permanently hardened and shrunk is called cirrhosis. Not a condition to be taken lightly, cirrhosis is the 12th leading cause of death by disease in the U.S.
Some of the more common culprits of liver disease include:
- Hepatitis C – One of the types of viral hepatitis that is not preventable via vaccination and can lead to chronic liver disease, Hepatitis C is spread primarily via infected blood-to-blood contact. An estimated four to five million Americans are currently infected with the Hepatitis C virus.
- Non-alcoholic liver disease (NAFLD) – Also referred to as a fatty liver, NAFLD describes the accumulation of fat within the liver that can cause inflammation and a gradual decrease in liver function. An estimated 25 to 30 percent of American adults have some degree of NAFLD.
- Alcoholic liver disease – One of the most common causes of liver disease in North America, alcohol kills liver cells. Alcohol is directly toxic to liver cells and its repetitive, over-consumption prohibits new liver cells from replacing injured ones.
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