Healthy maternal Body Mass Index (BMI) and exclusively breastfeeding a child for at least six months can reduce the risk of infants developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) in adolescence.
Pre-pregnancy BMI within the normal range was shown to reduce risk of adolescent NAFLD by a half and exclusively breastfeeding for at least six months reduced the risk of adolescent NAFLD by a third.
‘Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in now increasing in the age group of two to 19 years old and is linked to maternal weight and infant nutrition.’
The prevalence of NAFLD in children and adolescents is rising. Recent studies suggest that it has become the most common liver disease in people aged two to 19 years old, with half of obese children suffering from the condition. Factors including excessive childhood weight gain are believed to be key contributors to this rise.
In the long-term, NAFLD can lead to scarring (fibrosis) of the liver and a potentially life-threatening condition called cirrhosis in some individuals.
"We wanted to see if there was any association between adolescent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, maternal factors and infant nutrition," said Dr Oyekoya Ayonrinde, Clinical Senior Lecturer for Medicine and Pharmacology at the University of Western Australia and lead study author. "Our results demonstrate the grave impact maternal factors can have on the risk of developing liver disease in adolescence."
The Australian authors of the Raine Study, collected data such as maternal pregnancy, birth, childhood and adolescent characteristics through questionnaires, direct interviews, physical examinations and blood tests. Liver ultrasounds were conducted in 1,170 seventeen year-olds to diagnose NAFLD.
Out of the study cohort, over 15% of teenagers were diagnosed as having NAFLD. There was a lower prevalence of adolescent NAFLD in individuals who were exclusively breastfed as infants for six or more months compared to those who were breastfed for less than six months. However, breastfeeding beyond nine months did not further reduce the odds of NAFLD during adolescent.
"The findings of this large-scale study have enhanced our understanding of what factors can contribute towards future NAFLD in adolescence," said Professor Laurent Castera, EASL Secretary General. "The notable differences in the results demonstrate the importance of proper infant nutrition and the benefit of exclusive and extended breastfeeding for six months."