The Link between Low Potassium and NAFLD

The Link between Low Potassium and NAFLD

A research study based in China found low levels of potassium in patients who have the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD.

Dr. Guang Ning from the Shanghai Jiao-Tong University School of Medicine said that their research which investigated the cross-sectional population saw a difference in the serum potassium levels of patients with NAFLD and those without the liver disease. The former had lower levels than the latter.

Over the past years, many people have been diagnosed with NAFLD and it’s become a growing concern of the healthcare system. That is why many researchers have been studying this disease particularly the risk factors associated with it.

Potassium Deficiency may be linked to NAFLD

It is known that potassium is necessary for the body’s normal cellular functions and for maintaining metabolic balance. Studies on low potassium levels appear to show its possible contribution to the occurrence of many metabolic diseases like insulin resistance, which could lead to NAFLD.

This study involving 8,592 Chinese patients investigated the relationship between NAFLD and serum potassium. About 30 percent of the participants or 3 of 10 persons had NAFLD with a decreasing prevalence of the disease as serum potassium levels increase.

Conditions associated with Low Potassium

In addition to finding a higher incidence of NAFLD among the participants with low serum potassium levels, the following conditions were also seen in the participants:
higher prevalence of hypokalemia
bigger waist circumference
more severe insulin resistance

Researchers said that low potassium levels is perhaps linked to NAFLD because of insulin resistance. This means that with a deficiency in potassium, the body suffers from low nitric oxide levels causing endothelial dysfunction, glucose intolerance and hypertriglyceridemia.

A limitation of this study is the methodology used for the diagnosis of NAFLD. Ultrasound was used instead of a standardized liver biopsy test. Also, there were no tests done for measuring dietary potassium intake.

Despite of the limitations, researchers still concluded that low serum potassium increases the risk for NAFLD. The relationship between the two has something to do with insulin resistance and obesity.

The next important step in this field of research is to have observational studies or clinical trials to know if corrective actions on potassium deficiency could possibly lower NAFLD cases.

Reading resource: Sun K, et al “Low serum potassium level is associated with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and its related metabolic disorders” Clinical Endocrinol 2013; DOI: 10.1111/cen.12168.

Photo credits: Micrograph of non-alcoholic fatty liver. By Nephron – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Categories: Health