Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: A Silent Deadly Disease

by Mark A. Cavaretta, M.D.


Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is one of the most common liver diseases in the United States. Since NAFLD has few or no symptoms, it is often called “the silent disease,” and people who have it are at risk for developing serious complications such as cirrhosis or liver cancer. 

There are several factors that increase an individual’s risk for NAFLD. Understanding these factors can possibly help prevent it. 

What is NAFLD?
Unlike liver disease due to excessive alcohol consumption, NAFLD is a condition in which excess fat is stored in your liver. A severe form of NAFLD is called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which causes inflammation and liver damage. NASH can result in liver cancer, permanent liver scarring, and liver failure. Often people with liver failure require a transplant to survive.

Conditions associated with NAFLD

Obesity, high cholesterol, and type 2 diabetes are risk factors for NAFLD. According to recent research, NAFLD affects 30 to 40 percent of U.S. adults and up to 10 percent of U.S. children. While NAFLD occurs in people of all races and ethnicities, it is most common among Hispanics and non-Hispanic whites, and less common among African Americans.

Are there medications for NAFLD?
While there are no medications that are approved to treat NAFLD or NASH, the good news is that weight loss can help improve NAFLD. I often recommend gradual weight loss, healthy food choices, and exercise. Individuals who are unsuccessful in these efforts may consider bariatric surgery, which is thought to reverse NAFLD and NASH. In addition to weight loss, patients who have undergone bariatric surgery see an improvement in their body’s blood sugars, lipid metabolism, and a reduction in body inflammation. 

Research and treatment
Researchers who work with the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have found that specific genes play a role in causing NAFLD. Researchers also say that NAFLD is more common in some racial and ethnic groups than in others. There are studies underway to test possible treatments, including a natural form of vitamin E and a diabetes medication. However, more research is needed to determine if these treatments will prove to be safe and effective. Learn more about this at

Mark Cavaretta, MD, FACS, FASMBS is a board-certified surgeon who specializes in bariatric and general surgery. To make an appointment to see Dr. Mark Cavaretta at Trinity Medical of WNY with offices located in Cheektowaga and Buffalo, call 716-893-0333 or visit