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The evidence is in: bariatric surgery is about more than simply weight loss. It’s already been proven that gastric bypass can cure chronic migraine issues, and that the rapid weight loss that surgery provides can dramatically reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes for pre-diabetics.
Now, there’s evidence that bariatric surgery can also help patients who suffer from the Western world’s most common chronic liver disorder, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The disease affects more than one in four Australians, particularly those already struck by obesity or diabetes. While this build-up of fat in the liver often causes no problems at all, it can be harmful if left untreated for a long period of time. In some cases, people with the disease experience inflammation, swelling and tenderness of the liver, or even fibrosis and cirrhosis.
In a study published this month, researchers looked at the livers of people with and without NALFD, including those who had undergone bariatric surgery. They found that those with NAFLD had certain aspects of their DNA that was altered compared with those who had normal livers. However, when they examined patients after bariatric surgery, the changes in DNA were partially reversed, and their genetic expressions were much closer to those of healthy bodies.
Even when NAFLD has advanced to cause cirrhosis or severe fibrosis of the liver, studies have found that the liver can begin to heal if bariatric surgery is performed.
The findings are further evidence that full subsidisation of bariatric surgery would be a cost efficient option for the Federal government, as liver disease costs Australia about $50.7 billion annually, with NAFLD the most prevalent type of liver disease.
"With the number of Australians with liver disease reaching over eight million by 2030 it is imperative we act quickly. It is responsible for one quarter of all organ transplants and if left untreated, results in liver cancer - our fastest growing form of cancer in Australia. We can't ignore it any more - liver disease must receive prompt attention and urgent recognition as a chronic condition and national health priority," said Australian Liver Association chairperson Amany Zekry.
IMAGE CREDIT: Phalinn Ooi