Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is becoming an important chronic liver disorder in Asia. Prevalence figures show regional variations but at least 10% of the general population in Asia have fatty liver. Fatty liver can develop with relatively small changes in weight (2-3 kg), often with increasing central adiposity. The metabolic syndrome may precede or follow NAFLD. Overt diabetes is present in one-third of cases but when oral glucose tolerance tests are performed, a further third of individuals have impaired glucose tolerance or diabetes. Natural history data are still scarce but cases of advanced hepatic fibrosis and hepatocellular carcinoma are now regularly reported. Many cases of cryptogenic cirrhosis are also attributable to NAFLD. Histological progression has been demonstrated for patients with NASH as well as for those with hepatic steatosis alone. Genetic factors may in part contribute to the rise in NAFLD. Polymorphisms within apolipoprotein C3 (APOC3) gene have been linked to NAFLD in lean Indian men. Although a number of other polymorphisms involving genes controlling adipose distribution, insulin signalling, adipokine responses and hepatic fibrosis have been reported, these studies have been underpowered. Transient elastography could help in detecting and monitoring hepatic fibrosis but further refinements in technique are necessary for obese individuals. Of the biomarkers, hyaluronic acid and cytokeratin-18 fragment testing show promise as markers of hepatic fibrosis and NASH, respectively. Lifestyle alterations including dietary changes and increased physical activity remain the cornerstone of management. Attention should be paid to prevention through public education of campaigns addressing the increase in both adult and childhood obesity.
© 2011 Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology Foundation and Blackwell Publishing Asia Pty Ltd.