A joint study – the first of its kind – by UK BioBank and Oxford based diagnostic imaging company Perspectum, found people with more than ten percent fat in their were more than twice as likely to be hospitalised with Covid-19 than those who had healthy (less than five percent) levels of fat in their liver.
The work, which examined liver scans from 42,146 UK BioBank volunteers and 397 patients tested for coronavirus in hospitals, also discovered being obesity in itself itself did not increase the risk of covid complications.
In fact those who were fat or obese had no extra risk of covid complications if their liver fat was in a healthy range.
However, those who were obese, and had fatty liver were two and a half times more likely to be hospitalised from coronavirus infection.
Obesity increases the likelihood of fatty liver disease.
The UK BioBank data found as many as 1 in 9 of the adult population has more than ten percent fat in their liver. This means 1 in 9 adults would be at increased risk.
The research – released last week in the pre printed online science journal Medrxiv – may have future implications for how people with fatty livers are shielded from the virus.
It also gives more weight to Boris Johnson’s public health drive, which he described as a “war on fat” and which was launched after his own hospitalisation with the disease in April.
Professor Stephen Ryde, medical advisor to the British Liver Trust said: “We know diabetes and hypertension increase the risk of complications from coronavirus.
“It now appears fatty liver could also be a risk factor.
If this study is replicated it could help inform health care policy for this high risk population.”
The volunteers in the trial were examined using Perspectum’s novel LiverMultiScan device as part of a wider study into the potential effects of covid on internal organs in those most severely affected.
Dr Matt Kelly, Chief Innovation Officer at Perspectum and key author of the research said: “Fatty liver can be a silent disease and if we knew who had it we could keep a closer eye on this group. Not only could this inform shielding policy for this group but it could also help us bring in measures to mitigate the actual risk factors such as diet and lifestyle.”
Dr Aseem Malhotra, leading cardiologist, who specialises in diet related health said: “It is increasingly clear that excess body fat in many people even those who have a normal BMI is a significant risk factor for covid-19 complications.
“Fatty liver is one of the earliest manifestations of poor diet and lifestyle and this is being predominantly driven by diets high in refined carbohydrates and sugar. The message is very clear cut. Cut down the refined carbs.”
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