What is Fatty Liver Disease?
Fatty liver disease refers to the buildup of fats in the liver (x). More formally, it is known as hepatic steatosis (x). A common cause of fatty liver disease is heavy drinking. Over time, alcohol causes fats to accumulate in liver cells, which hinders the liver’s ability to function.
Moderate drinkers and even those who refrain from alcohol can also develop fatty liver disease. Studies assert how one in four people in America suffer from fatty liver disease (x). Many people with this condition are often unaware that they have it or even what the condition truly entails.
Fatty liver disease has mild symptoms in many cases. However, it can also cause life-threatening complications in severe cases. Fortunately, lifestyle changes can reverse the condition (x). Experts do not entirely know why some people contract it and others do not. However, the main risk factors for fatty liver disease involve hypertension, hepatitis C, diabetes, high blood cholesterol and liver infections (x). Although most people with this condition are older adults, it can affect anyone at any age.
Types of Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty liver disease can be categorized into two main groups (x):
As the name suggests, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs in moderate drinkers and even in those who do not drink at all. On the other hand, alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs in heavy drinkers.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can also be divided into various sub-groups. When the accumulation of excess fats in the liver is accompanied by inflammation, this type is known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH (x). It usually impacts people with histories of alcohol consumption. If left untreated, NASH could result in liver cirrhosis or liver failure.
Another type of NAFLD is acute fatty liver of pregnancy (AFLP) (x). AFLP may pose serious risks to the health of the mother or baby.
Women who have been diagnosed with AFLP are usually required by doctors to give birth as soon as possible. Liver health usually starts improving a few weeks after delivery.
It is essential for doctors to clarify between simple fatty liver and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis — the former does not cause illnesses related to the liver while the latter inflames the liver, thus possibly triggering more serious complications such as liver cirrhosis or cancer (x).
Fatty Liver Disease Symptoms
Fatty liver disease often does not produce any symptoms. However, if symptoms appear, they normally relate to the following:
- A sensation of being full in the middle and upper right of the abdomen
- Weight loss
- Loss of appetite
- Muscle weakness
- Red palms
- Enlarged blood vessels under the skin
Fatty Liver Disease Causes
Obesity promotes the storage of fats in the liver. More than half of people with obesity typically have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (x). Many children with childhood obesity also exhibit non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Excess Belly Fat
People with normal weights may also develop fatty liver disease if they are obese around their middle sections (x). Viscerally obese individuals have excessive fat around their waists.
Insulin resistance and high levels of insulin in the body encourages the accumulation of fats in the liver (x), a frequent condition among people with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Eating excessive amounts of processed carbs can instigate the storage of fats in the liver (x). People who are overweight and those with insulin resistance are more at risk of developing fat liver disease if they consume high quantities of refined carbs.
Beverages with high levels of sugar, including sodas and energy drinks, may foster fat storage in the liver.
Poor Gut Health
Poor gut health, including an imbalance of gut bacteria and other gut problems, may manifest in fatty liver disease.
Fatty liver disease can be challenging to diagnose because it is often asymptomatic (x). However, physicians use various diagnostic techniques.
First, your doctor may ask about your family history, including alcohol use. It is essential to be truthful. In addition, your doctor may inquire about your current medications, eating habits and any other health conditions.
A physical exam is another diagnostic tool for fatty liver disease. Your physician will weigh you and check for signs of liver damage or infection, including jaundice and enlarged liver.
Blood tests (x) further help to assess if a patient has high levels of liver enzymes, including ALT and AST. High levels of liver enzymes in the blood could indicate a problem with the liver.
Your doctor may recommend ultrasound, computerized tomography, or magnetic resonance imaging. Although imaging tests (x) can confirm the presence of fats in the liver, they cannot be used to confirm the type of fatty liver disease.
A liver biopsy (x) may be ordered if the patient shows signs of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or associated complications, including liver cirrhosis. A liver biopsy involves taking a sample of the liver for analysis in a lab.
Treatment for Fatty Liver Disease
Currently, no medicine has been approved for the treatment of fatty liver disease (x). However, the right lifestyle changes may effectively reverse the condition. Surgery is necessary in some cases to treat severe complications.
If you are obese, you should avoid eating carbs and take active measures to reduce weight. Weight loss is the leading recommended treatment option for fatty liver disease (x). Studies herald how it can lower the amount of fats in the liver, regardless of whether the weight loss was achieved through exercise alone or in combination with weight loss surgery (x).
Minimize the Intake of Refined Carbs
While many people presume that lowering one’s dietary fats suggests the easiest way to treat fatty liver disease, experts caution how less than a quarter of liver fat in people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease obtain it from dietary fats (x). A significant percentage of liver fat originates from fatty acids in the blood.
The body usually converts excess carbs into fats. The rate of conversion of the carbs into fat also elevates with the intake of sugar-rich foods and beverages (x). Thus, a diet rich in refined carbs and calories may significantly increase the levels of liver fats. For this reason, diets with lower levels of refined carbs are ideal, mainly in the form of the Mediterranean, DASH and Nordic diets.
Eat Foods That Promote Liver Fat Loss
Some foods are beneficial for liver health. For instance, foods rich in monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, nuts and avocados may lower fats in the liver. Research (x) further proposes how whey protein may lower levels of fat in the liver of people with obesity.
Green tea is rich in antioxidants known as catechins that correlate with lower fat levels in the liver and minimized liver inflammation. Studies (x) also praise soluble fiber for decreasing levels of fats in the liver, lowering liver enzymes levels and generating insulin sensitivity.
Doctors may prescribe medicine for insulin resistance for diabetic patients with fatty liver disease. In addition, statins may be prescribed to lessen levels of triglycerides (x).
Supplements for Liver Health
Rich in antioxidants, milk thistle may support liver health by minimizing the production of harmful enzymes. It can further protect liver cells from chemicals and infections, enrich protein synthesis and impede the oxidation of glutathione.
The correct serving size for milk thistle is 250 milligrams per day taken with or without food. Avoid taking this supplement if you are pregnant or lactating. Discuss proper use with a physician prior to trying it if you have diabetes or ragweed allergies. In addition, people with hormone-related conditions or disorders of the female reproductive organs should not use milk thistle extract powder.
Side effects are uncommon, especially if you adhere to the correct dosage. If they often include nausea, headaches, indigestion and bloating. Stop supplementing with this product if the side effects worsen and seek immediate medical attention. Unfortunately, this product is not available in Finland and Sweden due to sale restrictions.
Curcumin offers a powerful antioxidant that can deter free radicals from bodily cells. It also supports eye, bone, digestive and cognitive health (x). It may assist with regulation of blood cholesterol when paired with a healthy diet and lots of exercise.
The correct dosage for turmeric extract is no more than 1,000 milligrams per day, taken with meals or water. Be careful not to spill this product on yourself or clothing because it can stain. Although side effects are rare, people with gut problems or sensitive stomachs may experience discomfort after using this product.
Talk to a doctor before using this product if you have ginger allergies. In addition, exercise extreme caution when using this product if you have diabetes, hypertension and erratic blood sugar levels. Avoid using curcumin altogether if you are pregnant or using medication for blood clotting problems.
Consider cooking with oil before consuming to promote absorption. Alternatively, mix with coconut milk before consuming.
This product enriches liver and skin health since it is plentiful in antioxidants. Vitamin E also supports a host of bodily processes including cell signaling, gene expressing, fortifying the immune system (x).
The right dosage for this supplement is 350 milligrams per day, taken with meals or water. Side effects from overdose are minimal. However, this product interacts with anticoagulant medications and may magnify the effects. In addition, overdose may lead to nausea, abdominal discomfort, vomiting, blurred vision, cramps, stroke and bleeding. Therefore, always adhere to the recommended dosage. Vitamin E 400 IU softgels is highly soluble in water and can be taken with shakes or juices.
The Bottom Line
The buildup of fats in the liver causes fatty liver disease. There are two main types of fatty liver disease — alcoholic and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (x). The former impacts heavy drinkers while the latter typically affects moderate drinkers and even those who do not drink. While the precise causes of fatty liver disease are unknown, research cites lifestyle conditions such as diabetes, obesity and hypertension with higher rates of fatty liver disease (x). Fortunately, lifestyle changes such as losing weight and drinking in moderation may reverse this condition.