Researchers have found that toxin exposure appears to have contributed to dramatically higher rates of fatty liver disease among first responders, who were at the World Trade Center site after the 9/11 attacks.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), one of the most serious diseases of the digestive system, is generally thought to be caused by obesity, metabolic syndrome and poor lifestyle choices.

Study shows higher burden of the condition

Toxin-associated fatty liver disease (TAFLD) was recently identified as a form of NAFLD among people exposed to chemicals and toxins, according to the study, published in the journal.

"However, recent research shows a higher burden of this disease among workers exposed to environmental toxins in coal mining, demolition and factories. This exposure is similar to the toxins faced by 9/11 responders," said study lead researcher Mishal Reja from Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, Newark in the US.

Liver
Representational Picture Wikimedia Commons

Previous studies have confirmed that workers involved in the cleanup and recovery efforts at the World Trade Center have suffered a variety of health conditions, including digestive disorders, such as acid reflux, and respiratory disorders, such as lung disease, COPD and asthma.

Not been studied closely

However, the effect on the liver has not been closely studied. For the findings, the research team reviewed medical records of 243 first responders with gastrointestinal symptoms who were referred to the World Trade Center Health Program between January 2014 and August 2019.

Testing for signs of fatty liver disease and comorbidities, researchers found nearly 83 percent had fatty liver disease compared to 24 to 45 percent in the general population.

The research shows that 9/11 first responders need to be particularly concerned about fatty liver disease, and they must be examined more closely for it. "Additionally, they should be especially careful in managing their diet and any related comorbidities because their risk for fatty liver disease is compounded by toxin exposure," said Dr Reja.

Researchers believe occupational and industrial toxins disrupt endocrine signalling, causing weight gain associated with type 2 diabetes and fatty liver, which can lead to a host of life-threatening conditions, including liver cancer and cirrhosis.