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What is Fatty Liver (Steatosis)?


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About one of every five Americans has a fatty liver, which is also called steatosis. In fact, up to 9 of every 10 diabetics and people with obesity have fatty liver.

In steatosis, pronounced stee-ah-toe-sis, fat accumulates in the cells of the liver. The condition is cumulative, and as more fat is added to the cells, the cytoplasm of the liver is distorted. Soon the nucleus may be distorted and in some cases, the cell may even burst. Since all this extra fat is not supposed to be in the cell to begin with, you can imagine how the excess begins to interfere with liver function.

There are two types of fatty liver disease: alcohol-related fatty liver disease and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Even without drinking a drop of alcohol, you could end up with a fatty liver – and many people do!

Here are the details of each of these disorders:

Alcohol-related Fatty Liver Disease Alcohol causes steatosis, and the question many people ask is how much alcohol does it take to end up with alcohol-related fatty liver disease? The amount of alcohol differs for men and for women. If you’re a woman, more than two drinks per day could cause alcohol-related steatosis.

If you’re a man, three or more drinks a day is the amount that is far too much for the liver to handle. Twelve ounces of 5% alcoholic beer, cooler or cider is equal to one serving. When it comes to wine, 5 ounces of 12% alcoholic wine is one serving. And only 1.5 ounces of 40% spirits is a serving.

Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease If you’re not drinking any alcohol and still have steatosis, then the reasons why you ended up with it vary. For example, you could have had rapid weight loss, or protein deficiency in your diet (called protein malnutrition), or even starvation, such as what a prisoner of war might end up with. Those who have had intestinal bypass surgery are more prone to get steatosis, as are those who have to be fed via tube feedings for long periods of time.

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