Ectopic fat, insulin resistance, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: implications for cardiovascular disease

Arterioscler Thromb Vasc Biol. 2014 Jun;34(6):1155-61. doi: 10.1161/ATVBAHA.114.303034. Epub 2014 Apr 17.


Ectopic fat accumulation in the liver causes nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in Western countries. Ectopic liver lipid, particularly diacylglycerol, exacerbates hepatic insulin resistance, promotes systemic inflammation, and increases risk of developing both type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease. Increasing evidence suggests that NAFLD is an emerging risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and although there are currently no licensed treatments for NAFLD per se, current evidence suggests that statin treatment is safe in NAFLD. Presently, there is insufficient evidence to indicate that statins or other cardioprotective agents, such as angiotensin receptor blockers, are effective in treating NAFLD. In this brief narrative review, we discuss the diagnosis of NAFLD and the role of ectopic liver fat to cause insulin resistance and to increase risk of both type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease. For this review, PubMed was searched for articles using the key words non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or fatty liver combined with diabetes risk, cardiovascular risk, and cardiovascular mortality between 1990 and 2014. Articles published in languages other than English were excluded.

Trial registration: NCT00760513 NCT01680640.

Keywords: cardiovascular diseases; diabetes mellitus, type 2; insulin resistance; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology*
  • Fatty Liver / complications*
  • Humans
  • Insulin Resistance*
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Liver / metabolism*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
  • Risk Factors

Associated data