University of California, San Diego, researchers have revealed that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is an inherited disease.
They suggest that family members of kids diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) should get themselves screened even if they do not show symptoms.
"As we suspected, NAFLD is not simply about weight, but rather is highly familial and likely genetic," said principal investigator Dr Jeffrey B. Schwimmer, associate professor of pediatrics and director of the Fatty Liver Clinic at Rady Children's Hospital-San Diego.
During the research, the team studied 44 children with and without NAFLD and 152 family members of these children.
They found that the rates of NAFLD were much higher in family members of children with NAFLD; it was present in 59pct of siblings and 78pct of parents.
In most cases the person did not know that they had the disease. In a few cases the disease was already very advanced even in the absence of symptoms.
The researchers say that the new study takes a major step in building the case that NAFLD is a genetic disease.
"Being overweight is a risk factor for NAFLD, but this is strongly modified by the underlying genetics," said Schwimmer.
"So some people can have high body weights without any storage of fat in the liver. But in susceptible families, there's an additive effect.
"Regardless of weight, they are more likely to have NAFLD for genetic reasons. In addition, the more overweight such a person is, the more likely they are to have dangerous amounts of fat in their liver.
"Understanding that this disease runs in families may help an entire family create a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and a heart-healthy-liver healthy diet," said Schwimmer.
The researchers recommend that if one family member tests positive for NAFLD, other family members should talk to their doctors immediately.
Early detection could catch NAFLD at a stage where the disease is reversible and further complications may be prevented before cirrhosis sets in.