Hypothyroidism and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease - A chance association?

Abstract

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) defines the clinical-pathological spectrum of hepatic lipotoxicity, which may progress to hepatic fibrosis and its complications. Thyroid hormone is a master regulator of cell metabolism and body fat distribution. Whether hypothyroidism is associated or not with an increased risk of developing NAFLD and its fibrotic progression is both clinically and physiopathologically relevant. Indeed, answering this research question would carry major pathogenic and therapeutic implications. PubMed database was searched using relevant key-words such as hypothyroidism; NAFLD; nonalcoholic steatohepatitis; cirrhosis; hepatocellular carcinoma; epidemiology; pathogenesis; natural history. The epidemiological studies and the meta-analyses published so far were identified as well as those studies addressing the physiopathology underlying this association. Many observational studies have investigated the association between either subclinical or overt hypothyroidism and NAFLD. Data are conflicting: some original and meta-analytical studies demonstrated that hypothyroidism, (mainly subclinical hypothyroidism), was common, occurring in approximately 25% of individuals with imaging-defined or biopsy-proven NAFLD; other studies, however, failed to identify a significant association between hypothyroidism and NAFLD. Moreover, such an association is biologically plausible based on the specific physiopathological impact of thyroid hormone and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) on metabolism of hepatocytes and accumulation and distribution of body fat. The findings from the present review support a significant association between primary hypothyroidism and risk of development and progression of NAFLD. However, further studies evaluating the relative importance of subclinical versus overt hypothyroidism as well as addressing the mechanisms underlying the association of hypothyroidism with NAFLD are eagerly awaited

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