The role liver disease played in George Michael’s death
By: Flavia Mendes, M.D., Gastroenterologist
It’s one of those tunes you instantly recognize from the opening note. And then he filled out your TV screen donning ripped jeans, a 5 o’clock shadow, mirrored aviator sunglasses and a memorable leather jacket, swaying his hips from side to side while playing the guitar. Faith was the #1 single in the United States in 1988 and propelled beloved pop star George Michael’s solo career.
George Michael sold more than 115 million records worldwide making him one of the best-selling music artists of all time. On Christmas day, 2016, he passed away at his country home in Oxfordshire, England. He was 53 years old.
The Faith singer’s cause of death was due to a combination of dilated cardiomyopathy with myocarditis and fatty liver, according to a coroner’ report.
This means his heart was weakened, inflamed and enlarged leading to trouble pumping blood around his body properly.
George’s liver also had abnormal amounts of unhealthy fat collections, which can be caused by many factors, including excessive alcohol use. While most people understand the causes of cardiovascular disease, few know anything about fatty liver and how it can lead to adverse health outcomes or — in its most severe stage — death.
WHAT IS FATTY LIVER DISEASE?
Fatty liver is a condition where fat accumulates in the liver tissue which can cause inflammation and scarring over time. In a majority of cases, this condition is benign and can be reversed. However, when left untreated can lead to cirrhosis, which is when the liver can become hardened and stop working properly resulting in death or the need for liver transplantation.
CAUSES AND RISK FACTORS OF FATTY LIVER DISEASE
There are several causes of fatty liver. Alcohol consumption in excess is a well-known cause of liver disease. Even though most people that develop liver disease from alcohol have a long standing history of heavy alcohol use, not all heavy alcohol users will develop liver disease and, conversely, some individuals that are not considered heavy drinkers can end up with liver disease.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is estimated to affect about 80 to 100 million people, being the most common form of chronic liver disease in both adults and children. As the name suggests, this disease affects people who do not drink alcohol or drink only little amounts. Just like fatty liver caused by alcohol, the fat deposition in NAFLD can also cause inflammation and scarring, leading to cirrhosis.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is associated with risk factors such as being overweight, high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels (diabetes) and high cholesterol. These are also risk factors for cardiovascular disease and patients with NAFLD are at an even higher risk of developing heart problems.
The scariest part of fatty liver disease is, if you have it, you probably don’t know it. The good news, though, is that it’s not difficult to diagnose and reversal is possible.
What can you do to prevent or reverse fatty liver?
- Eat a well balanced diet with increased fruits, vegetables and fibers and avoid foods with high sugar and fat content.
- Aim for a healthy weight. Don’t get discouraged as even a small amount of weight loss can help move the fat deposits out of the liver. Remember slow and maintained weight loss is better than quick and short-lived results!
- Exercise! You don’t have to spend two hours at the gym every day. Fast walking for 30 minutes, at least 5 days a week is a great way to help your liver get rid of the fat.
- Minimize or avoid alcohol consumption.
- Avoid taking unnecessary medications and health supplements.
- Routine check-ups are a great way to diagnose early and prevent complications.
If you feel you are at risk, have a discussion with a Gastro Health physician and start giving the one organ you think least about a lot more attention.
Dr. Flavia Mendes is a board-certified gastroenterologist and sees patients at Gastro Health’s Care Center 1, located at 7500 S.W. 87th Avenue, Suite 200, as well as at 15955 S.W. 96 Street, Suite 307.
“As the music dies, something in your eyes
Calls to mind the silver screen
And all its sad good-byes”
Careless Whisper, 1984, George Michael