Your liver is one of the most important major organs in the body, carrying out more than 500 roles in the human body. It’s designed to naturally remove toxins from your blood supply to help maintain healthy blood sugar levels and regulate blood clotting by breaking down, balancing, and creating nutrients for the body to use. But it needs a healthy weight and environment to thrive. Otherwise, excess fat builds up in and around the liver, making it difficult to perform the many jobs it has to do. This is commonly known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease – NAFLD, for short. Not to be confused with alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition caused by drinking excessively, obesity and being overweight are the two culprits for NAFLD. Unfortunately, it affects approximately 80 to 100 million people in the United States. It is also recognized as one of the most common forms of liver disease in children. But what does that mean for you and your health and how can you prevent or treat NAFLD? Well, we’ve got you covered with everything you need to know right in this article – from the basic knowledge to the most effective remedies that you can enjoy right at home, and everything in between.
The 101 on Your Liver
In order to understand non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, you must first know what the liver does for your body and overall health. For starters, it’s a large organ located in the abdomen that performs many different functions necessary to sustain life – over 500 functions, to be exact. However, some of the most crucial jobs the liver has are:
- Activation of enzymes
- Bile production and excretion
- Detoxification and purification of blood
- Excretion of bilirubin, cholesterol, hormones, and drugs
- Metabolism of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates
- Storage of glycogen, vitamins, and minerals
- Synthesis of plasma proteins, such as albumin, and blood clotting factors
One of the main functions of the liver is to break down harmful substances and remove toxins from the body. All of the blood that leaves your stomach and intestines travels through the liver, where this process occurs. It breaks down, balances, and creates (and metabolizes) nutrients into forms that are easier for the body to use. It regulates most chemical levels in the blood and discharges “bile”, which helps carry away waste products from the liver and out of the body.
What is Fatty Liver Disease?
Fatty liver disease occurs when excess fat builds up in the liver. There are two forms of fatty liver disease that are not to be mistaken as one in the same, as they certainly are not. The first type of alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is caused by excessive alcohol use. The second type is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which is believed to be largely caused by obesity and being overweight. Both types cause the excessive build-up of fat in your liver that can lead to serious complications, but they are caused by entirely different things. As such, their treatments are also different.
With non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), the contributing factors or main causes aren’t always so clear. For example, it can be poor diet that has led to obesity and ultimately, NAFLD or it can be that the body produces too much fat or doesn’t metabolize fat efficiently. There are also many things that can contribute to NAFLD, with the most common factors being:
- High levels of fat in the blood
- Infections, such as hepatitis C
- Insulin Resistance
- Metabolic syndrome
- Rare genetic conditions
- Type 2 diabetes
Fatty Liver Disease Symptoms
Unlike many other conditions, fatty liver disease doesn’t always have straightforward symptoms that are a sure-fire sign that something is wrong. Instead, it tends to develop overtime, making it a much more complex condition to spot. In fact, the development of fatty liver disease typically goes through a four-phase process that causes excess fat build-up.
This four-phase process consists of:
- Phase One: Simple fatty liver which is when a buildup of excess fat begins. This buildup is usually harmless if it doesn’t progress into further phases.
- Phase Two: Steatohepatitis is when a combination of excess fat and inflammation occurs in the liver.
- Phase Three: Fibrosis consists of persistent inflammation in the liver that leads to scarring. However, the liver can still function normally in this phase.
- Phase Four: Cirrhosis is when scarring becomes widespread and the liver’s ability to function properly becomes impaired.
As you may have guessed, the final stage of fatty liver disease is the most severe. Once you reach this point, it may also become irreversible, which is why it’s so important to know the warning signs and symptoms of fatty liver disease so you can spot it quickly and start a treatment plan.
This can be more difficult said than done as many symptoms can be unnoticeable, easily mistaken for something else, or overlooked. However, in the first three phases, fatty liver disease tends to make you feel tired and can also cause pain or discomfort in the right side of your stomach. In the fourth phase, you may begin to see additional symptoms, such as:
- Abdominal pain
- Breast enlargement (in men)
- Clusters of blood cells in your legs under the skin
- Dark-colored urine or pale stools
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Fluid in the abdomen
- Low appetite
- Itchy skin
- Swelling in your legs
- Weight loss
If you have already been diagnosed with fatty liver disease, keep an eye out for any signs that could show a potential decline in your condition, such as a loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss, weakness, bleeding and fluid retention.
It’s also crucial to note that some forms of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can develop nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). This is an aggressive form of fatty liver disease and is marked by inflammation in the liver and can lead to advanced scarring (cirrhosis) and liver failure. Although not caused by alcohol, the damage can be just as severe and similar to the damage caused by excessive alcohol use.
Treating Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Naturally with Diet and Exercise
The most important thing is that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is treatable! While there are no medicines approved to treat this condition, many studies have found effective treatments that consist of improving your diet, lifestyle and exercise. This makes sense since the two main factors for NAFLD are obesity and overweight; developing new, healthy habits in your diet, lifestyle and physical activity can help you achieve weight loss effectively to eliminate these two contributors. There is also an abundance of home remedies that can help you beat NAFLD and boost your overall health. So, let’s not waste any time and let’s start healing your liver!
Eat a clean diet
The food you eat directly impacts fatty liver disease, which also means that the food you eat can also be used to drastically improve your condition. Try to get foods from all food groups into your diet each day. This includes fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy and healthy oils and fats. You’ll also want to try to eliminate any foods that are processed or packaged, and of course, anything that directly harms your liver, such as alcohol.
Here are some extra tips to get you started:
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet that’s low in excess calories, saturated fat, and trans fats
- Take vitamin E supplements and other antioxidants to protect your liver by reducing inflammation
- Focus on lowering your cholesterol
- Eliminate or limit your alcohol intake
- Eat foods rich in fiber as it can help improve the function of your liver
- Stay hydrated – drink plenty of water
- Limit foods that are high in salt, refined carbs, saturated fats and trans fats, such as:
- Sweets, white bread, white rice, refined grains, red meat, full-fat dairy, fried foods, processed foods, etc.
- Avoid raw or undercooked shellfish
- Avoid foods with added sugars, added salt, white breads, rice and pastas
Maintain a Healthy Weight
Maintaining a healthy weight is the number one thing you’ll want to do to start treating NAFLD, and doing so consists largely of lowering your calorie intake and increasing your physical activity to ensure a caloric deficit. The previous tip should definitely help with this goal, as diet plays a major role in weight, but there are some extra things you can do to speed up weight loss, such as:
- Incorporate intermittent fasting
- Count your calories
- Portion control
- Eat on smaller plates
- Drink a full glass of water before each meal
- Limit your consumption of foods that are high in calories
- Make exercise fun by doing it with a friend or trying different styles
- Think outside of the traditional styles of exercise and find something you really enjoy doing
- Take up hiking, play a sport, or go for daily walks with your dog
- Find a workout buddy
- Park further away from main entrances to increase your steps
- Use the stairs instead of the elevator
- Get at least 30 minutes of exercise in on most days of the week
Helpful Tips for Prevention
Making some key changes in your diet and lifestyle should make a drastic impact on your condition and the way you feel. However, you can also add in some preventative measures to avoid your condition getting worse, such as:
- Avoid medications and supplements that are hard on your liver
- Manage your blood sugar, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol levels
- If you have diabetes, treat it
- Take your vitamins and minerals
- Drink more coffee (regular coffee consumption reduces liver damage)
- Read the ingredient lists and know what you’re putting into your body
- Add liver-helping herbs into your diet, such as turmeric, resveratrol, milk thistle and green tea
- Check out guide books or programs that teach about reversing NAFLD. One of our recommendations is The Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Strategy program.
There’s no denying that fatty liver disease is a serious condition that you’ll want to start treating as quickly as possible. However, you can also have confidence in the fact that there is an overwhelming amount of evidence that shows NAFLD can be cured simply by making healthy lifestyle and diet changes, particularly those that aid weight loss. With the information in this article, you should have everything you need to get started on just that.