World NASH Day: How can NASH and NAFLD be prevented?

Published Jun 8, 2024 • By Somya Pokharna

On the 8th of June every year, we celebrate World NASH Day, which is dedicated to raising awareness about non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and its more severe form, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). 

According to the American Liver Foundation, NAFLD is the most prevalent chronic liver disease in the United States in 2024, affecting approximately 25% of adults. Among those with NAFLD, around 20% (or 5% of U.S. adults) have NASH. 

Understanding these conditions is important because they are becoming increasingly common and can lead to serious liver damage if not managed properly. 

So, what are NAFLD and NASH? What are they cause by, and how can they be prevented? 

Dig into this article to find out!

World NASH Day: How can NASH and NAFLD be prevented?

What is NAFLD? 

NAFLD, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, is a condition where fat builds up in the liver without the influence of alcohol. It's one of the most common liver diseases globally, affecting millions of people. 

NAFLD can range from simple fatty liver (steatosis) to more severe forms that cause liver inflammation and damage. This condition is often silent, showing no symptoms, making it crucial to understand and manage it early. 

It is often diagnosed through a liver function blood test, which can show abnormal results, with other liver conditions like hepatitis ruled out. However, blood tests don't always detect NAFLD. The condition might also be identified during an abdominal ultrasound

If diagnosed with NAFLD, further tests may be required to determine the stage. This can include a special blood test, a Fibroscan (another type of ultrasound), or in some cases, a liver biopsy to analyze a tissue sample. Additional tests might include a CT scan or MRI scan

What is NAFLD caused by? 

Several factors contribute to the development of NAFLD: 

  1. Diet and lifestyle are the primary causes related to its occurrence in an individual. High consumption of sugary foods, processed foods, and excessive caloric intake can lead to fat accumulation in the liver. Over time, this fat buildup can cause inflammation and liver damage
  2. Lack of physical activity in sedentary lifestyles are linked to weight gain and metabolic issues, both of which can increase the risk of NAFLD.  
  3. Metabolic conditions such as obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol levels are major risk factors as well. These conditions are often interlinked and can create a cycle that exacerbates liver fat accumulation. Insulin resistance leads to higher levels of fatty acids in the blood, which can then be deposited in the liver. 
  4. Genetic predisposition can also make some individuals more susceptible to NAFLD. If someone has a family history of liver disease, diabetes, or obesity, they may be at a higher risk of developing NAFLD. 
  5. Emerging research suggests that an imbalance in gut bacteria can lead to increased intestinal permeability, allowing harmful substances to enter the liver and contribute to fat buildup and inflammation.  
  6. Some drugs, like corticosteroids and certain cancer treatments, can lead to fat accumulation in the liver. Other health conditions, such as sleep apnea and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), are also associated with an increased risk of NAFLD. 

What is NASH? 

NASH, or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, is a more severe form of NAFLD. It occurs when the fat buildup in the liver leads to inflammation and liver cell damage. Unlike simple fatty liver, NASH can progress to more serious conditions like liver fibrosis, cirrhosis, and even liver cancer. The progression from NAFLD to NASH is a significant health concern, making it essential to prevent and manage NAFLD effectively. 

How does NAFLD advance to NASH? 

The transition from NAFLD to NASH involves additional risk factors. While the initial causes of fat buildup are similar, the development of NASH is driven by inflammation and oxidative stress in the liver. This can be exacerbated by the following factors: 

Insulin resistance 

Insulin resistance, often associated with type 2 diabetes, can lead to higher levels of insulin and glucose in the blood. This condition promotes fat storage in the liver and increases inflammation, accelerating the progression to NASH. 

Oxidative stress 

The accumulation of fatty acids in liver cells can generate oxidative stress, leading to cellular damage and inflammation.  

Inflammatory cytokines 

These are signaling proteins that mediate and regulate immunity and inflammation. Elevated levels of inflammatory cytokines can exacerbate liver inflammation and injury

Mitochondrial dysfunction 

Mitochondria are the energy powerhouses of cells. Dysfunction in these organelles can lead to increased fat accumulation and oxidative stress, contributing to liver damage. 

Genetic factors 

Certain genetic variants can predispose individuals to NASH by affecting fat metabolism, inflammation, and fibrosis pathways in the liver

Hormonal imbalances 

Conditions such as polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and hypothyroidism can contribute to the development of NASH due to their effects on metabolism and fat storage. 

How can NAFLD be prevented? 

Preventing NAFLD primarily involves adopting a healthy lifestyle. Here are key strategies to help prevent the onset of NAFLD: 

  • Maintain a healthy, balanced diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Reducing the intake of sugary drinks, processed foods, and saturated fats can help prevent fat accumulation in the liver. 
  • Engage in regular physical activity, such as brisk walking, jogging, or cycling. Even moderate exercise can significantly reduce the risk of developing NAFLD. 
  • Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial. If you are overweight, losing even a small percentage of your body weight can reduce liver fat and improve liver health. 
  • Regularly monitor and manage your metabolic health, i.e., your blood sugar levels, cholesterol, and blood pressure. Keeping these within healthy ranges can prevent conditions that contribute to NAFLD. 

How can NAFLD be managed to prevent NASH? 

If you already have NAFLD, it’s important to take steps to prevent it from progressing to NASH. Here are some strategies: 

  • Regularly monitor your liver health through medical check-ups and liver function tests. Early detection of any progression can help in timely intervention. 
  • Continue with a healthy diet and regular exercise. These lifestyle changes can slow disease progression and reduce liver fat and inflammation. 
  • Losing weight, especially if you are obese, can significantly reduce liver fat and the risk of progression to NASH. Aim for a gradual and sustainable weight loss through diet and exercise. 
  • Consult with a healthcare provider for personalized medical advice. In some cases, medications or other interventions may be necessary to manage NAFLD and prevent its progression to NASH. 
  • Avoiding alcohol and being cautious with medications that can affect the liver is crucial for managing NAFLD. 

Was this article helpful to you? 
Give it a "Like" and share your thoughts and questions with the community in the comments below! 
Take care! 



You will also like

How can NAFLD be reversed?

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and NASH

How can NAFLD be reversed?

Read the article
Blood tests: How to read and understand the results of a liver function test

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and NASH

Blood tests: How to read and understand the results of a liver function test

Read the article
NASH, or

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and NASH

NASH, or "fatty liver disease": Understanding treatments

Read the article
NASH diagnosis: Carenity members tell their story

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and NASH

NASH diagnosis: Carenity members tell their story

Read the article

Most commented discussions

Fact sheet