By Alice Clifford

Fast food fans are more likely to develop a potentially life-threatening illness.

Scientists said if one in five meals eaten is junk food, then you are at a higher risk of developing the nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) when fat builds up in the liver.

A burger and fries on a plate. Junk food has been seen as life-threatening in developing a fat liver. ROBIN STICKEL/SWNS TALKER

Patients whose diets are one-fifth or more made up of junk food suffer from a moderate increase in liver fat.

People with obesity or diabetes, who consume 20 percent or more of their daily calories from fast food, have severely elevated levels of fat in their liver compared to those who consume little to no junk food.

Dr. Ani Kardashian, of Keck Medicine University in Southern California and a lead author of the study, said: “Healthy livers contain a small amount of fat, usually less than five percent, and even a moderate increase in fat can lead to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

“The severe rise in liver fat in those with obesity or diabetes is especially striking, and probably due to the fact that these conditions cause a greater susceptibility for fat to build up in the liver.”

Dr. Kardashian added: “If people eat one meal a day at a fast-food restaurant, they may think they aren’t doing harm.

“However, if that one meal equals at least one-fifth of their daily calories, they are putting their livers at risk.”

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, also known as liver steatosis, can lead to cirrhosis.

According to the NHS: “Early-stage NAFLD does not usually cause any harm, but it can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis, if it gets worse.

“Cirrhosis is the most severe stage, occurring after years of inflammation, where the liver shrinks and becomes scarred and lumpy.

“This damage is permanent and can lead to liver failure and liver cancer.”

During the early stages there are not often symptoms.

However, in more advanced stages people can suffer from a dull or aching pain at the top right of their stomach, fatigue, weight loss and weakness.

Liver steatosis affects over 30 percent of the U.S. population.

According to the NHS, around one in every three people in the UK are in the early stages of nonalcoholic liver disease.

Currently, the only way to treat liver steatosis is through an improved diet.

The team studied the most recent data from the U.S.’s largest annual nutritional survey, the 2017-2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.

Fast food included food from either a drive-through restaurant or one without wait staff.

A person grabbing a slice of pizza. Consumers have stated they ate fast food and over a quarter percent of consumers have said they ate on a daily basis. MUFFIN CREATIVES/SWNS TALKER

They collected the data from around 4,000 adults and compared their fatty liver measurements with how much fast food they ate.

Of those surveyed, 52 percent ate fast food. Of these, 29 percent consumed one-fifth or more of their daily calories from fast food.

Only this 29 percent of survey subjects experienced a rise in liver fat levels.

Dr. Kardashian added: “Our findings are particularly alarming as fast-food consumption has gone up in the last 50 years, regardless of socioeconomic status.

“We’ve also seen a substantial surge in fast-food dining during the COVID-19 pandemic, which is probably related to the decline in full-service restaurant dining and rising rates of food insecurity.

“We worry that the number of those with fatty livers has gone up even more since the time of the survey.”

Dr. Kardashian hopes that the study will encourage health care providers to offer patients more nutrition education, especially for those suffering from obesity or diabetes who are at higher risk of developing a fatty liver from food.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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