Fatty liver may predict type 2 diabetes onset

Measurements of insulin resistance and blood sugar levels are commonly used to assess patients for diabetes risk. However, a new study out of Stanford University shows that the presence of fat in the liver may be one of the strongest predictors of whether or not a person will eventually develop type 2 diabetes.

As part of the nation's obesity epidemic, a growing number of people now suffer from fatty liver disease. The condition can cause scarring of the tissue of the organ and eventually lead to further complications. However, the findings of the new study, which were published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, indicate that the possible complications extend beyond the liver.

For the study, researchers examine the medical records of more than 11,000 patients who received insulin testing and abdominal ultrasounds. The patients were then re-examined after a period of five years. The results showed that individuals with fatty liver were five times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes during the study period.

The findings were consistent regardless of the participant's insulin test results, suggesting that fatty liver may be a stronger predictor. Individuals with the condition were also more likely to have high blood sugar and bad cholesterol and low levels of good cholesterol.

"Many patients and practitioners view fat in the liver as just 'fat in the liver,' but we believe that a diagnosis of fatty liver should raise an alarm for impending type 2 diabetes," said Sun Kim, who led the study. "Our study shows that fatty liver, as diagnosed by ultrasound, strongly predicts the development of type 2 diabetes regardless of insulin concentration."