Children of obese mothers are at increased risk of developing fatty liver disease in their 20s, according to researchers who say legislators must do more to address the promotion of poor-quality foods and beverages.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) can be caused by obesity. If it progresses, it can lead to serious health problems like cirrhosis and liver cancer, while high levels of fat in the liver are also associated with an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
According to the NHS, up to a third of people in the UK have early stages of NAFLD, which means they have small amounts of fat in their liver. If the condition is found, it can be prevented from getting worse and the damage can even be reversed.
While age is a risk factor for NAFLD, researchers previously warned of an epidemic of the condition in young people after finding that approximately 20% of 24-year-olds in England had fatty deposits in the liver, and half of those with a serious illness. condition form.
Now, the same team says that influences in the womb may play a role in increasing the risk of developing NAFLD.
The researchers, whose results will be presented at the 2021 International Liver Congress convened by the European Association for the Study of the Liver, analyzed liver scans of 2,961 participants born in England and enrolled in a longitudinal study called Children of the 90s. In the participants, information was also available on the body mass index (BMI) of their parents.
After taking into account factors such as maternal age, smoking during pregnancy and social class, the team found that obesity in mothers before pregnancy was associated with a three times higher risk that their children would develop fatty liver at the 24 years.
The team also found an increased risk associated with obese fathers, but this link was lower than that of mothers, suggesting that while family environment or the father’s health may play a role, there appears to be a particular influence on the uterus. .
“What our study is saying is that maternal obesity before pregnancy is having an effect early in life to prepare for the [offsprings’] livers to develop fatty liver, making them vulnerable to environmental impacts such as a hypercaloric diet or a Western diet, which will increase your risk of developing more advanced liver disease, ”said Dr Kushala Abeysekera, from the University of Bristol.
“We don’t blame moms for this,” Abeysekera said. Instead, he noted that the research highlighted that the impact of the obesogenic environment can be passed down from generation to generation, in addition to the already known inherited genetic risk factors for NAFLD. The team notes that the work is based on research in Australia that found a similar link when looking at offspring at 17 years of age.
“There is no easy solution for this,” Abeysekera added. But he said steps could be taken, such as cutting down on unhealthy food specials to make it easier for people to make healthier choices.
Chris Byrne, a professor of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of Southhampton who was not involved in the work, said the results were in line with other research, including in mice, and one possible explanation was that the powerhouses of cells, known as mitochondria, they could participate since these are only inherited from the mother.
However, he cautioned that more work is needed to completely rule out the environmental factors shared by parents that may be behind the apparent link.
Vanessa Hebditch of the British Liver Trust said greater awareness of the risk factors for NAFLD was needed. “At the moment, most patients with this serious disease are not seen until a late stage in which the liver is so severely damaged that it is too late for effective intervention,” he said. “Any research like this that sheds light on the causes and potentially can improve early detection in the future is important.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism