Common Liver Disease Linked to Higher Dementia Risk

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Being diagnosed with the most common form of chronic liver disease may put you at a higher risk of developing dementia, according to new research.

Patients diagnosed with a buildup of fat cells in the liver known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease have a 38% higher rate of dementia compared to those without the liver disease, according to findings published in Neurology, the medical journal of the American Academy of Neurology.

And the bad news doesn’t end there. As we have previously reported, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease also harms the heart. This most recent study found that those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and heart disease have a 50% greater risk of dementia.

Patients with this type of liver disease and a history of stroke are 2.5 times more likely to develop dementia than those with healthy livers.

In nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, fat builds up in your liver. In most cases, it is a “silent disease,” causing few if any symptoms.

Certain factors leave you more prone to developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, including:

  • Obesity
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type 2 diabetes

About 25% of people worldwide have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

As part of the study, researchers analyzed three decades of data from the Swedish National Patient Register. Their research included 2,898 people age 65 and older diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and 28,357 people without the disease.

Researchers found that when they focused on vascular dementia, resulting from poor blood flow to the brain, those with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease had a 44% higher rate of dementia.

By contrast, no link was found between non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and a higher rate of Alzheimer’s disease.

In a press release, study author Ying Shang of the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, says:

“Our study shows that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is associated with the development of dementia, which may be driven mainly by vascular damage in the brain. These results highlight the possibility that targeted treatment of this form of liver disease and co-occuring cardiovascular disease may reduce the risk of dementia.”

Doctors typically diagnose non-alcoholic fatty liver disease through a combination of medical history, a physical exam and tests such as:

  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests
  • Liver biopsy

If you are diagnosed with the disease, your doctor likely will recommend you lose weight. To date, no medications are available to treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

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