Global Medical Cures™ | Non Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)
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Published on: Mar 3, 2016
Transcripts - Global Medical Cures™ | Non Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH is
a common, often “silent” liver disease. It
resembles alcoholic liver disease, but occurs
in people who drink little or no alcohol.
The major feature in NASH is fat in the
liver, along with inflammation and damage.
Most people with NASH feel well and are
not aware that they have a liver problem.
Nevertheless, NASH can be severe and
can lead to cirrhosis, in which the liver is
permanently damaged and scarred and
no longer able to work properly.
NASH affects 2 to 5 percent of Americans.
An additional 10 to 20 percent of Ameri
cans have fat in their liver, but no inflam
mation or liver damage, a condition called
“fatty liver.” Although having fat in the
liver is not normal, by itself it probably
causes little harm or permanent damage.
If fat is suspected based on blood test
results or scans of the liver, this problem
is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
(NAFLD). If a liver biopsy is performed
in this case, it will show that some people
have NASH while others have simple
Both NASH and NAFLD are becoming
more common, possibly because of the
greater number of Americans with obesity.
In the past 10 years, the rate of obesity has
doubled in adults and tripled in children.
Obesity also contributes to diabetes and
high blood cholesterol, which can further
complicate the health of someone with
NASH. Diabetes and high blood choles
terol are also becoming more common
Common hepatic duct
Common bile duct
of Health and
NASH is usually first suspected in a person
who is found to have elevations in liver
tests that are included in routine blood test
panels, such as alanine aminotransferase
(ALT) or aspartate aminotransferase
(AST). When further evaluation shows no
apparent reason for liver disease (such as
medications, viral hepatitis, or excessive
use of alcohol) and when x rays or imaging
studies of the liver show fat, NASH is sus
pected. The only means of proving a diag
nosis of NASH and separating it from
simple fatty liver is a liver biopsy. For a
liver biopsy, a needle is inserted through
the skin to remove a small piece of the
liver. NASH is diagnosed when examina
tion of the tissue with a microscope shows
fat along with inflammation and damage to
liver cells. If the tissue shows fat without
inflammation and damage, simple fatty
A small, slender core of tissue is
removed with a biopsy needle and
looked at through a microscope.
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liver or NAFLD is diagnosed. An impor
tant piece of information learned from the
biopsy is whether scar tissue has developed
in the liver. Currently, no blood tests or
scans can reliably provide this information.
NASH is usually a silent disease with few
or no symptoms. Patients generally feel
well in the early stages and only begin to
have symptoms—such as fatigue, weight
loss, and weakness—once the disease is
more advanced or cirrhosis develops. The
progression of NASH can take years, even
decades. The process can stop and, in
some cases, reverse on its own without
specific therapy. Or NASH can slowly
worsen, causing scarring or “fibrosis” to
appear and accumulate in the liver. As
fibrosis worsens, cirrhosis develops; the
Deposits of fat
Scar tissue forms.
More liver cell
makes liver hard
and unable to
Stages of liver damage.
liver becomes seriously scarred, hardened,
and unable to function normally. Not every
person with NASH develops cirrhosis, but
once serious scarring or cirrhosis is present,
few treatments can halt the progression.
A person with cirrhosis experiences fluid
retention, muscle wasting, bleeding from
the intestines, and liver failure. Liver
transplantation is the only treatment for
advanced cirrhosis with liver failure, and
transplantation is increasingly performed
in people with NASH. NASH ranks as
one of the major causes of cirrhosis in
America, behind hepatitis C and alcoholic
Many patients with NASH have elevated
blood lipids, such as cholesterol and
triglycerides, and many have diabetes or
prediabetes, but not every obese person
or every patient with diabetes has NASH.
Furthermore, some patients with NASH
are not obese, do not have diabetes, and
have normal blood cholesterol and lipids.
NASH can occur without any apparent risk
factor and can even occur in children.
Thus, NASH is not simply obesity that
affects the liver.
While the underlying reason for the liver
injury that causes NASH is not known,
several factors are possible candidates:
• insulin resistance
Although NASH has become more com
mon, its underlying cause is still not clear.
It most often occurs in persons who are
middle-aged and overweight or obese.
• release of toxic inflammatory proteins
by fat cells (cytokines)
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• oxidative stress (deterioration of cells)
inside liver cells
Currently, no specific therapies for NASH
exist. The most important recommenda
tions given to persons with this disease
• reduce their weight (if obese or
• follow a balanced and healthy diet
• increase physical activity
• avoid alcohol
• avoid unnecessary medications
These are standard recommendations, but
they can make a difference. They are also
helpful for other conditions, such as heart
disease, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
A major attempt should be made to lower
body weight into the healthy range. Weight
loss can improve liver tests in patients with
NASH and may reverse the disease to some
extent. Research at present is focusing on
how much weight loss improves the liver
in patients with NASH and whether this
improvement lasts over a period of time.
People with NASH often have other med
ical conditions, such as diabetes, high blood
pressure, or elevated cholesterol. These
conditions should be treated with medica
tion and adequately controlled; having
NASH or elevated liver enzymes should not
lead people to avoid treating these other
Experimental approaches under evaluation
in patients with NASH include antioxi
dants, such as vitamin E, selenium, and
betaine. These medications act by reducing
the oxidative stress that appears to increase
inside the liver in patients with NASH.
Whether these substances actually help
treat the disease is not known, but the
results of clinical trials should become
available in the next few years.
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Another experimental approach to treating
NASH is the use of newer antidiabetic
medications—even in persons without
diabetes. Most patients with NASH have
insulin resistance, meaning that the insulin
normally present in the bloodstream is less
effective for them in controlling blood glu
cose and fatty acids in the blood than it is
for people who do not have NASH. The
newer antidiabetic medications make the
body more sensitive to insulin and may help
reduce liver injury in patients with NASH.
Studies of these medications—including
metformin, rosiglitazone, and pioglita
zone—are being sponsored by the National
Institutes of Health and should answer the
question of whether these medications are
beneficial in NASH.
Hope Through Research
What is most needed in the management
of NASH is more research to better under
stand the liver injury found in this disease.
When the pathways that lead to the injury
are fully known, safe and effective means
can be developed to reverse these pathways
and help patients with NASH. Recent
breakthroughs in mapping the human
genome and uncovering the individual
steps by which insulin and other hormones
regulate blood glucose and fat could pro
vide the necessary clues.
The National Institute of Diabetes and
Digestive and Kidney Diseases funds the
NASH Clinical Research Network, which
comprises eight clinical centers located
throughout the United States and a coordi
nating center at Johns Hopkins University.
The NASH network researches the nature
and underlying cause of NASH and con
ducts clinical studies on prevention and
treatment. More information on the
NASH Clinical Research Network and
the locations of the clinical centers are
available at www.jhucct.com/nash/.
Points to Remember
• Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis
(NASH) is fat in the liver, with
inflammation and amage.
• NASH occurs in people who drink
little or no alcohol and affects 2 to 5
percent of Americans, especially
people who are middleaged and
overweight or obese.
For More Information
American Liver Foundation
75 Maiden Lane
New York, NY 10038
Phone: 1–800–GO–LIVER (465–4837),
1–888–4HEP–USA (443–7872), or
• NASH can occur in children.
• People who have NASH may feel
well and may not know that they
have a liver isease.
• NASH can lead to cirrhosis, a condi
tion in which the liver is permanently
damaged and cannot work properly.
• Fatigue can occur at any stage of
• Weight loss and weakness may
begin once the disease is advanced
or cirrhosis is resent.
• NASH may be suspected if blood
tests show high levels of liver
enzymes or if scans show fatty liver.
• NASH is diagnosed by examining a
small piece of the liver taken through
a needle, a procedure called biopsy.
• People who have NASH should
reduce their weight, eat a balanced
diet, engage in physical activity,
and avoid alcohol and unnecessary
• No specific therapies for NASH
exist. Experimental therapies being
studied include antioxidants and
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You may also find additional information about this
topic by visiting MedlinePlus at www.medlineplus.gov.
This publication may contain information about
medications. When prepared, this publication
included the most current information available.
For updates or for questions about any medications,
contact the U.S. Food and Drug Administration
tollfree at 1–888–INFO–FDA (1–888–463–6332)
or visit www.fda.gov. Consult your doctor for more
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