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Circulating total bilirubin and risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in the PREVEND study: observational findings and a Mendelian randomization study

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Number of pages15
JournalEuropean Journal of Epidemiology
DateAccepted/In press - 20 Nov 2019
DatePublished (current) - 26 Nov 2019


The relationship between circulating total bilirubin and incident non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is uncertain. We aimed to assess the association of total bilirubin with the risk of new-onset NAFLD and investigate any causal relevance to the association using a Mendelian randomization (MR) study. Plasma total bilirubin levels were measured at baseline in the PREVEND prospective study of 3824 participants (aged 28-75 years) without pre-existing cardiovascular disease or NAFLD. Incident NAFLD was estimated using the biomarker-based algorithms, fatty liver index (FLI) and hepatic steatosis index (HSI). Odds ratios (ORs) (95% confidence intervals) for NAFLD were assessed. The genetic variant rs6742078 located in the UDP-glucuronosyltransferase (UGT1A1) locus was used as an instrumental variable. Participants were followed up for a mean duration of 4.2 years. The multivariable adjusted OR (95% CIs) for NAFLD as estimated by FLI (434 cases) was 0.82 (0.73-0.92; p = 0.001) per 1 standard deviation (SD) change in loge total bilirubin. The corresponding adjusted OR (95% CIs) for NAFLD as estimated by HSI (452 cases) was 0.87 (0.78-0.97; p = 0.012). The rs6742078 variant explained 20% of bilirubin variation. The ORs (95% CIs) for a 1 SD genetically elevated total bilirubin level was 0.98 (0.69-1.38; p = 0.900) for FLI and 1.14 (0.81-1.59; p = 0.451) for HSI. Elevated levels of total bilirubin were not causally associated with decreased risk of NAFLD based on MR analysis. The observational association may be driven by biases such as unmeasured confounding and/or reverse causation. However, due to low statistical power, larger-scale investigations are necessary to draw definitive conclusions.

    Research areas

  • Cohort Study, Mendelian randomization, Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, Total bilirubin

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