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Liver Disease

Fatty Liver Disease

How Common is Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty Liver Disease is an extremely common condition.  As many as 1 in 4 people may have it, however many sufferers don’t know they have it, because they may never suffer any symptoms.  While it is normal to have a tiny amount of fat in the liver, your liver is considered fatty if more than 5% of your liver consists of fat.  There are different types of Fatty Liver Disease, it is important if you receive a diagnosis of Fatty Liver Disease, to know what type you have.

Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

Fatty Liver Disease, that is not caused by the over consumption of alcohol is Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, can be broken into two categories:

  • Simple Fatty Liver Disease – this condition is quite common and causes little inflammation, and generally does not cause scarring of the liver.  Many people with Simple Fatty Liver Disease will never have symptoms or complications from this condition.
  • Non Alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH) is a more serious issue due to inflammation accompanying the accumulation of fat in the liver.  This inflammation can cause scarring and other damage to the liver, including cirrhosis or liver cancer.

Alcohol Related Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD)

Alcohol Related Fatty Liver Disease is the result of the repeated heavy drinking of alcohol.  Alcohol is broken down in the liver, the resulting chemical reaction of the breakdown can damage liver cells.  This damage leads to inflammation and scarring.  Alcohol also damages the intestines, causing Leaky Gut Syndrome and allowing toxins from the gut to get to the liver.

If diagnosed early Alcohol Related Fatty Liver Disease can be reversed by abstaining from alcohol.

Continued drinking of alcohol after a diagnosis of Alcohol Related Fatty Liver Disease can result in:

  • An enlarged liver
  • Alcoholic Hepatitis
  • Alcoholic Cirrhosis
  • Liver Failure

Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty Liver Disease is a silent disease, and you could be damaging your liver for years before you have any symptoms.  Some early symptoms of liver damage include:

  • Jaundice
  • Fatigue
  • Skin conditions including general itchiness, eczema, psoriasis
  • Frequent heartburn and acid reflux
  • Nausea, vomiting
  • Low grade fever
  • Tenderness in the right upper abdomen

A definitive diagnosis involves a complete medical history, physical exam, blood and imaging tests and potentially a biopsy.

Causes and Risk Factors

The number one risk factor for Alcohol Related Fatty Liver Disease is the over consumption of alcohol.  The following are some other causes and risk factors associated with developing fatty liver:

  • Obesity
  • Having body fat concentrated in the abdomen
  • Insulin Resistance or type 2 diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Eating a diet high in refined carbohydrates
  • Having chronic hepatitis (especially Hepatitis C)
  • Being a male of African American or Hispanic descent
  • Age – the older you are increases your risk factor
  • Impaired gut health
  • Polycystic ovary disease
  • Exposure to toxins and chemicals

Complications of Fatty Liver Disease

The main complication of Fatty Liver is Cirrhosis or scarring of the liver.  The scarring of the liver interferes with the body’s ability to function, causing:

  • Fluid buildup in the abdomen
  • Swollen veins in the esophagus
  • Confusion and drowsiness
  • Liver cancer
  • Liver failure

Can anything be done about Fatty Liver Disease?

The key to treating Fatty Liver Disease is to avoid alcohol, practice self-care and to pay close attention to diet, exercise, and following general good health habits including:

  • Avoiding alcohol.
  • Avoiding stressing the liver by following all instructions for prescription medications, supplements and over the counter medications.
  • Losing weight, the Mediterranean diet is particularly effective for lowering fat levels in the liver and and insulin resistance.
  • Increase soluble fiber in the diet, and eat monounsaturated fats including olive oil, avocados and nuts.
  • Limit the amount of refined carbohydrates you eat.  Refined carbohydrates are converted into fat by the body.
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week.  Studies have shown that engaging in endurance exercise and resistance training several times a week can reduce the amount of fat stored in the liver, whether or not weight loss occurs.
  • Lowering cholesterol and managing diabetes and blood sugar levels.

Finally some supplements and detox protocols may be called for, however these should never be done without the supervision of a doctor trained in integrative and holistic methods.

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