Research shows that genetics may play a role in the development of fatty liver, particularly nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL).

The liver helps the body digest food, store energy, and remove toxins. It is the largest organ inside the body.

Fatty liver disease occurs when fat builds up in the liver. There are two types of fatty liver disease:

  • nonalcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) disease
  • alcoholic fatty liver disease

The buildup of fat from NAFL can lead to liver damage that is similar to the damage that results from excessive alcohol consumption. However, in the case of NAFL, the person does not drink excessively.

This article discusses whether fatty liver is hereditary. It also explains other causes, symptoms, and treatments for fatty liver disease.

Person wearing a t-shirt that shows where the liver is locatedShare on Pinterest
Suzi Media Production/Getty Images

There is evidence that NAFL can run in families. A person has an increased risk of developing NAFL if any of their relatives have the condition.

However, this does not mean that the person will definitely develop NAFL.

NAFL is the most common type of chronic liver disease worldwide, with a growing prevalence. Most experts believe the development of the condition is due to various factors, including genetics and environmental factors.

Recent studies have verified the existence of inheritable forms of NAFL. One, in particular, may be due to a mutation in a specific gene, ABHD5.

Research is ongoing to find out whether genetic testing may be able to predict a person’s risk of developing NAFL. Researchers believe this may be a possibility in the near future. This could also help manage the increasing occurrence of the condition worldwide.

One thing researchers agree on is that genetics contribute to the development of NAFL and other conditions it may cause.

Besides genetics, various factors can contribute to the development of NAFL, including other health conditions, dietary factors, and aspects of the digestive system.

Health conditions that may increase a person’s risk of developing NAFL include:

Research is ongoing. However, some experts believe that diets high in fructose may increase a person’s risk of developing NAFL. Fructose is a sugar that is added to sweetened drinks and foods.

NAFL typically does not cause any symptoms. It is known as a “silent disease.”

If symptoms do occur, they may include tiredness or discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen.

The main treatment approach healthcare professionals recommend for NAFL is gradual weight loss. Losing weight can reduce inflammation, fibrosis, and fat in the liver. Losing at least 3–5% of a person’s body weight can reduce the amount of fat in the liver.

Regular physical activity is also important for people with NAFL.

No medication is available to treat NAFL. However, doctors may recommend medications and other treatments to manage complications of NAFL, such as cirrhosis.

The following are some questions people frequently ask about fatty liver.

What is the main cause of fatty liver?

Medical experts do not yet know the exact cause of NAFL. However, genetic and environmental factors may play a role. For example, excess fat from the foods a person eats can lead to buildup of fat in the liver.

What age is fatty liver common?

People who are older than age 50 have a higher risk of developing NAFL.

Are there warning signs of fatty liver?

NAFL does not typically cause symptoms in its early stages.

There is some evidence that NAFL may be hereditary. Certain genes may increase a person’s risk of developing the condition.

NAFL does not typically cause any symptoms in its early stages. If a person experiences symptoms, they may include fatigue and discomfort in the upper right side of the abdomen.

Treatment for NAFL typically involves making efforts to gradually lose weight and getting regular physical activity.