In Britain, the National Clinical Director for Liver Disease is worried. If present trends continue, many thousands of children are headed for a destiny of stroke, diabetes, or liver cirrhosis, arriving there by the road called “fatty liver disease.” All those terrible conditions, says Professor Martin Lombard, are made worse by excessive fat in the liver cells.
This condition, more formally known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, is called a silent killer because often the victim shows no signs or symptoms. They just go along, indulging in unhealthy living habits, and meanwhile fat accumulates in the liver, causing inflammation and scarring of the besieged organ. When it gets really bad, it’s called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, and liver failure can be the end result.
Aside from alcohol, fatty liver disease can be caused by steroid use, some poisons, Cushing’s syndrome, high blood levels of fat, and diabetes. Most of all, it results from overweight and obesity. In Britain as in the United States, many teens and young adults are alcohol abusers and binge drinkers. Despite their large numbers, journalist Christian Nordqvist warns, obesity could soon beat even alcohol as the main cause of liver cirrhosis.
Professor Lombard is quoted:
The unfortunate problem with liver disease is you don’t get any symptoms at all until it’s at an advanced stage. So you get cirrhosis and then you have complications that arise from that cirrhosis which can be very serious… Parents should be concerned about children who are overweight as they will be at risk of developing fatty liver. If they don’t become more active and lose the weight as they go on, then they become overweight adults and have a range of other risk factors as well.
Several years ago the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists released a report full of bad news, based on the fact that there is about one chance in three of a young mother being obese. The ACOG emphasized, like never before, that the optimization of weight before conception is one of the most important things a mom can do for her baby and herself. The health issues are numerous, and excess weight complicates both the pregnancy and the delivery.
While whole battalions of researchers work on the effects of maternal obesity on a developing fetus, others study the impact on the mother herself. The gestation period presents a number of vulnerabilities, to conditions like gestational diabetes. Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition that encompasses high blood pressure, swollen legs, and kidney dysfunction. Full-blown eclampsia can include seizures or put the mother into a coma.
And lest we delude ourselves that things have gotten any better, the Centers for Disease Control published an article about gestational diabetes mellitus earlier this month:
GDM is the body’s inability to effectively process carbohydrates, leading to increased glucose in the blood stream. It affects 2% to 10% of pregnancies in the United States. Although GDM usually goes away after delivery, up to 33% of affected women have diabetes or impaired glucose metabolism at their postpartum screening.
Obese mothers are more likely to have miscarriages, stillborn babies, and premature births. During checkups, external monitors are more difficult to use, meaning it’s harder to hear the fetal heart or estimate the fetal weight.
And then, there are delivery complications. Granted, the entire topic of Caesarean births can be hotly contested, but it has been shown that an obese mother has a worse time with the surgery. Anesthesia is more difficult to achieve, whether the route is injection or intubation. Time in the OR is apt to be longer, and both bleeding and infection are more likely to be problematic.
In brief, prospective mothers need to realize that maintaining a healthy weight is not just about appearance, but has real medical consequences. So many future problems could be avoided by correcting one single, preventable condition, excess maternal weight.
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Source: “Childhood Obesity And Liver Disease A Serious Public Health Concern In England,” MedicalNewsToday.com, 07/04/11
Source: “ACOG Issues Guidance to Ob-Gyns on Impact of Obesity During Pregnancy,” ACOG.org, 08/31/05
Source: “Pregnancy Complications,” CDC.gov, 03/12/12
Image by ulybug, used under its Creative Commons license.