Obesity and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: From pathophysiology to therapeutics

Metabolism. 2019 Mar:92:82-97. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2018.11.014. Epub 2018 Nov 29.


The obesity epidemic is closely associated with the rising prevalence and severity of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD): obesity has been linked not only with simple steatosis (SS), but also with advanced disease, i.e., nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), NASH-related cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma. As a consequence, apart from increasing all-cause mortality, obesity seems to increase liver-specific mortality in NAFLD patients. Given the lack of approved pharmacological interventions for NAFLD, targeting obesity is a rational option for its management. As the first step, lifestyle modification (diet and exercise) is recommended, although it is difficult to achieve and sustain. When the first step fails, adding pharmacotherapy is recommended. Several anti-obesity medications have been investigated in NAFLD (e.g., orlistat, glucagon-like peptide-1 analogs), other anti-obesity medications have not been investigated (e.g., lorcaserin, phentermine hydrochloric, phentermine/topiramate and naltrexone/bupropion), whereas some medications with weight-lowering efficacy have not been approved for obesity (e.g., sodium-glucose cotransporter-2 inhibitors, farnesoid X receptor ligands). If the combination of lifestyle modification and pharmacotherapy also fails, then bariatric surgery should be considered in selected morbidly obese individuals. This review summarizes best evidence linking obesity with NAFLD and presents related therapeutic options.

Keywords: Adipose tissue; Metabolic syndrome; Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease; Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis; Obesity; Treatment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / complications*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / epidemiology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / physiopathology
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / therapy*
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / epidemiology
  • Obesity / surgery
  • Obesity / therapy*