Food insecurity increases risk of death for those with chronic liver disease

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Patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease or advanced liver disease, who lack access to affordable health foods, have an increased risk of death, according to a new study published in the journal, Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

The study was led by Ani Kardashian, MD, a hepatologist with Keck Medicine. Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, Kardashian and her team analyzed survey results between 1999 and 2014 of over 34,000 people, 20 years or older. Of the individuals studied, 5,000 had nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and 1,650 had advanced liver disease. Researchers categorized people as food insecure using a United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) food survey.

Results suggested people diagnosed with NAFLD, which causes excess fat buildup in the liver, who also struggle with food insecurity are 46 percent more likely to die than those with the disease who have adequate access to healthy food. Similarly, patients categorized as food insecure with advanced liver disease had a 37 percent higher risk of death than those who were not. Researchers determined that without food insecurity, an estimated 3 percent of NAFLD deaths, and 7 percent of advanced liver deaths could be prevented.

In addition to higher death rates among patients who lack access to nutritious foods, the results suggested that compared to the general population, rates of food insecurity were higher among those who suffered from NAFDL and advanced liver disease. The study also showed higher rates of outpatient clinic visits among those who have these diseases and lack access to affordable, healthy food.

The study could lead to a better understanding of how diet affects chronic liver disease, researchers said, and suggested liver disease may be harder for those from underserved communities.