The metabolic syndrome X, characterized by insulin resistance, dyslipidemia, hypertension, and a male, visceral distribution of adipose tissue, is associated with increased morbidity and mortality from several prevalent diseases, such as diabetes, cancers, myocardial infarction, and stroke. Because the liver has a central role in carbohydrate, lipid, and steroid metabolism, we investigated the relationships between liver pathology and the metabolic syndrome. Blood chemistry, anthropometry (waist/hip circumference ratio), and intraoperative routine knife biopsies of the liver were obtained in 551 (112 men) severely obese patients (body mass index, 47 +/- 9; mean +/- SD) undergoing antiobesity surgery. Steatosis was found in 86%, fibrosis in 74%, mild inflammation or steatohepatitis in 24%, and unexpected cirrhosis in 2% (n = 11) of the patients. The risk of steatosis was 2.6 times greater in men than in women (P < 0.0001). With each addition of 1 of the 4 components of the metabolic syndrome, elevated waist/hip ratio, impaired glucose tolerance, hypertension, and dyslipidemia, the risk of steatosis increased exponentially from 1- to 99-fold (P < 0.001). Fibrosis correlated with steatosis (r = 0.56; P < 0.0001), whereas patients with diabetes or impaired glucose tolerance had a 7-fold increased risk of fibrosis (P < 0.0001). Diabetes, steatosis, and age were all significant indicators of cirrhosis, whereas inflammation was only associated with age. We conclude that the metabolic syndrome via impaired glucose tolerance is strongly correlated with steatosis, fibrosis, and cirrhosis of the liver.