Interaction of iron, insulin resistance, and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis
- Cite this article as:
- Chitturi, S. & George, J. Curr Gastroenterol Rep (2003) 5: 18. doi:10.1007/s11894-003-0005-y
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) has emerged as a ubiquitous liver disorder with occasional serious overtones. Although diabetes and obesity were initially held culpable, insulin resistance (IR) is now considered the fundamental operative mechanism. IR is probably the "first step" in nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Oxidative stress may be the elusive "second" of possibly multiple steps in the progression of steatosis to fibrosing steatohepatitis. Because hepatic iron promotes oxidative stress, it was mooted as a contributory cofactor in NASH. This proposal was strengthened by an association with hepatic fibrosis. Subsequent studies have shown neither a significant increase in hepatic iron nor an association between hepatic iron and any of the histologic determinants in NASH. Likewise, the increased prevalence of hemochromatosis gene (HFE) mutations in some studies appears to be largely irrelevant to the development of hepatic fibrosis. Excess hepatic iron may occur in insulin resistance-associated iron overload (IRHIO), characterized by hyperferritinemia with normal to mild increases in transferrin saturation. Although patients with IRHIO have a high prevalence of IR-related metabolic disorders, the relationship of IRHIO to NASH is unclear. A recent study showed improvement in insulin sensitivity with the use of venesection in patients with NAFLD, but this approach cannot be implemented without extensive review.