Fatty Liver: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment
Your liver works like a factory for your body. A factory that controls everything that ranges from processing and production to elimination and storage.
Fatty liver is a term that we use to describe an excess of fat in our liver cells. It can lead to an impairment in the functioning of liver and can even cause liver failure.
In this guide, we will cover everything you need to know about fatty liver. So, let’s get right into it!
Fatty Liver Disease
The other name for fatty liver is hepatic steatosis.
When fat accumulates in the liver causing a build up, we call it as fatty liver.
Small amounts of fat are normally present in liver. However, an excess of fat in liver can become a health problem.
Why is Liver Such a Vital Organ?
Your liver is one of the largest organs of your body. It takes care of more than 500 vital tasks. Moreover, it kick-starts thousands of chemical reactions each day.
It also converts nutrients into energy, producing useful substances for our body like antibodies and proteins.
As if it wasn’t busy enough already, the liver also helps in the storage of substances.
If fat builds up in your liver, it can become a cause of liver inflammation. As a result, your liver would be damaged and scarred. This scarring can eventually lead towards liver failure.
Stages of Fatty Liver Disease
The disease progresses through four stages. These include:
- Simple fatty liver (accumulation of excess fat in the liver)
- Steatohepatitis (inflammation in the liver in addition to the excess fat)
- Fibrosis (when inflammation leads to scarring in liver)
- Cirrhosis (when scarring spreads widely in the liver)
Cirrhosis can be life-threatening and can even lead to liver failure.
Therefore, it’s important to prevent it from the very start.
Types of Fatty Liver Disease
Generally, we have two main types of fatty liver disease:
- Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NFLD)
This type develops in people who don’t drink alcohol.
Moreover, it includes:
As per researches, 25% to 30% of people in Europe and US become victims of NAFLD.
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD)
This type develops in people who drink a lot of alcohol and can be prevented by reducing or eliminating the use of alcohol.
Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD) includes:
- Alcoholic steatohepatitis (ASH)
- Simple alcoholic fatty liver disease
Fatty Liver Causes
There can be various causes that may contribute to the accumulation of fat in liver.
Let’s look closely at each cause separately.
Obesity can result in low-grade inflammation.
This inflammation may increase the chances of excess fat storage in liver.
Moreover, as per an estimate, 30% to 90% of adults with obesity have NAFLD.
Furthermore a result of childhood obesity epidemic, it is also increasing in children.
Obesity can also lead towards higher levels of cholesterol and cardiac issues like heart attack.
Frequent Intake of Refined Carbs
Liver fat storage can also result from a high intake of refined carbs.
Specially, if you are insulin-resistant or overweight, then chances of developing fat in the liver increases further.
High insulin levels and insulin resistance are also likely to increase fat levels in liver.
Moreover, it mostly happens in people either having metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes.
Excess Belly Fat
Having an excess fat around the belly is called “visceral obesity”.
People who have normal weight but are viscerally obese are also at a risk of developing fat in the liver.
Gut Health Impairment
Having leaky gut, imbalance in the amount of gut bacteria or other issues related to gut health may also contribute to the development of fatty NAFLD.
Consumption of Sugary Beverages
Sugary beverages like energy drinks and soda contain high level of fructose which is likely to accumulate fat in the liver.
Who is at Risk of Fatty Liver Disease?
People who are at a greater risk include:
- Middle aged or older people
- those having prediabetes and type 2 diabetes
- people having exposure to certain toxins
- the ones with high blood pressure
- those exposed to certain infections, like hepatitis C
- people with rapid weight loss
- who take certain drugs like corticosteroids
- those having high levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in blood
- having metabolic disorders, such as metabolic syndrome
Symptoms of Fatty Liver
There are various signs and symptoms that can indicate an accumulation of excess fat in liver.
However, not all of the symptoms may be present at a time.
Moreover, sometimes you don’t even get to realize that the level of fat is increasing in your liver.
Some of the common symptoms include:
- Weakness and fatigue
- Fullness or mild pain in the central or right abdominal area
- High levels of insulin
- Increased levels of liver enzymes
- Elevated levels of triglyceride
In some cases where an excess fat in the liver leads to NASH, following symptoms may appear:
- Loss of appetite
- Abdominal pain ranging from mild to severe
- Yellowing of skin and eyes
- Skin itchiness
Moreover, doctors recommend to go for regular examinations and blood tests in order to spot excess fat in the liver at an earlier and reversible stage.
Fatty Liver Treatment
At present, there are no medications approved by FDA for the purpose of treatment.
However, intake of certain natural compounds like Vitamin E and coffee can be helpful.
How is Fatty Liver Disease Diagnosed?
In order to make a diagnosis, your doctor may go for:
- Medical history
- Physical examination
- Blood tests
- Imaging studies
- Liver biopsy
How to Treat Fatty Liver Disease?
In most of the cases, changes in the pattern of lifestyle can also help. Your doctor would advise you to:
- Lose weight
- make dietary changes
- avoid alcohol or limit its use
Moreover, in case there are more complications, your doctor may suggest you to go for further treatments.
For example, for the treatment of cirrhosis, your doctor might recommend:
- Changes in your lifestyle
Cirrhosis is a condition that can lead to liver failure. In case of liver failure, you would probably be needing a liver transplant.
Fatty Liver Diet
There are various things you can do in order to get rid of fat accumulating in your liver.
These mostly include weight loss and cutting carbs.
Moreover, there are some specific foods that can help you losing liver fat.
Let’s have a more deeper look into it!
What are the Dietary Strategies to Overcome Fatty Liver Disease?
1. Avoid Overeating and Lose Weight
One of the the most useful tips is losing weight. Specially, if you are overweight or obese.
Most of the researches show that whether you lose weight by making changes to your diet or go for exercise or weight loss surgery, losing weight helps losing liver fat.
Reducing intake of calories by 500 calories per day can lead to an average of 8% loss of body weight. This eventually decreases the level of fat in liver to a great extent.
2. Cutting Carbs (Most Importantly Refined Carbs)
Did you know that the source of most of the fat is fatty acids from blood?
Moreover, a process known as de novo lipogenesis (DNL) accounts for 26% of liver fat.
Excess carbohydrates are converted into fat during the process of DNL.
Moreover, higher the intake of food rich in fructose, higher the rate of DNL.
This means intake of carbs, especially refined carbs significantly increases the amount of liver fat.
Studies prove that the diets low in refined carbs can also help to reverse NAFLD. These mostly include:
- Low carb diet
- Mediterranean diet
- Low-glycemic index diets.
3. Intake of Foods That Promote Loss of Liver Fat
There are some specific foods as well as beverages that can burn liver fat.
Some of them include:
- Monounsaturated fats (like avocados, olive oil and nuts)
- Green tea (antioxidants in green tea help to reduce liver fat as well as inflammation)
- Whey protein (helps to reduce the level of liver enzymes and can reduce liver fat up to 20% in obese women)
- Soluble fiber (10-14 grams daily lowers the level of liver fat)
4. Supplements That Can Reduce Fatty Liver
Some of the supplements can also reduce the liver fat. These include:
- Milk thistle
- Omega-3 fatty acids
Which Exercises Can Help Reducing Fatty Liver?
Another effective way to reduce fat in the liver is physical activity.
Resistance training and endurance exercise can decrease the amount of liver fat, even if no weight loss takes place.
Moreover, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is also proven to show significant decrease in the liver fat.
However, even the exercise of lower intensity can also reduce liver fat.
Therefore, choose something you like the most and then stick to your best strategy.
Fatty liver is a serious problem which can further lead to a number of health problems.
Luckily, there are chances of reversal if you address excess fat in the liver at an early stage.
Intake of healthy diet and supplements as well as increasing level of physical activity can reduce the risk of its progression.
Now you know all you needed to know about fatty liver. Don’t forget to add your suggestions and feedback in the comment section below.
Also, let me know that which part of the guide you found most useful.