Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is widespread through modern society, especially in the west where around 30 percent of adults are suffering from the disorder. Many of those people, though, will show no signs of liver issues until their NAFLD progresses into something worse.
Fortunately, people with NAFLD can take steps to slow the condition’s progress or reverse it altogether. By reversing the effects of NAFLD, people with the condition can live longer, high quality lives.
What is NAFLD?
There are two types of NAFLD. They include:
- NAFL (nonalcoholic fatty liver) – In people with NAFL, there is fat present in the liver, but low levels of inflammation, or no inflammation at all. Some people with NAFL will never show signs of underlying liver disease, but many instances of NAFL will progress into something more aggressive, including NASH.
- NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) – About 20 percent of the people suffering from NAFLD have NASH, which is a more aggressive form of fatty liver disease. In patients with NASH, fat deposits are also present in the liver, along with inflammation and liver tissue damage.
Both conditions require a closer look by a doctor, but NASH is particularly problematic, as it can lead to a number of serious health conditions. NAFLD can also develop in people of any age, though it’s more likely to occur in older people.
What Conditions Can a Fatty Liver Lead To?
Although NAFLD isn’t considered a high-risk medical condition, it can lead to serious, potentially life-threatening liver issues. That’s because a common complication of NAFLD is cirrhosis, or liver scarring.
If inflammation is present, the liver responds by depositing scar tissue. This reduces inflammation, but also reduces the liver’s function. Once cirrhosis spreads enough, it can threaten the organ’s capacity to filter out toxins.
Complications from severe cirrhosis include:
- Elevated blood pressure and bleeding
- Lower body and abdomen swelling
- Hepatic encephalopathy, which results in toxin buildup in other organs
- Weakness and fatigue
- Bone disease
- Increased chance of infection
- Increased chance of developing liver cancer
In addition to the above, people with NAFLD and NASH are also more likely to develop cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and various metabolic disorders. In fact, the number one cause of death in people with NAFLD is cardiovascular disease.
While it’s true that NAFLD alone doesn’t indicate imminent health problems, it can develop into NASH if left untreated. It’s also true that NAFLD is difficult to detect unless it’s specifically looked for, but there are a couple of signs that you could have a fatty liver without realizing it.
What Risk Factors and Symptoms are Associated With a Fatty Liver?
Although most cases of NAFLD are difficult to detect, many people with a fatty liver demonstrate health issues that they may not connect to the liver. They include:
- Fatigue – Fatty livers may have a more difficult time cleansing the blood of toxins and supporting optimal organ function as a result. This can lead to chronic, unexplained fatigue.
- Difficulty controlling weight – The liver is an important part of metabolizing nutrients. If it is affected by fatty deposits, the body may have issues regulating nutrition intake, which can lead to persistent issues with controlling weight.
- Pain in abdomen – Pain in the upper right abdomen, in particular, is associated with a fatty liver.
If cirrhosis is present and untreated, some of the first visible signs include:
- Jaundice – Jaundice occurs when the liver can’t process bilirubin (a product of breaking down red blood cells) efficiently enough, and it ends up in the blood and causes the skin and eyes to yellow.
- Abdominal swelling – Abdominal swelling can result from cirrhosis, as increased blood pressure results in additional fluid collecting around the abdomen.
- Enlarged blood vessels under the skin – Cirrhosis also elevates blood pressure, in general, including the blood vessels closest to the skin. Because of this, you may see redness on parts of the body. Red palms, especially, indicates cirrhosis.
People With a Fatty Liver Can Improve Their Condition
Although 30 percent of all Americans are dealing with a fatty liver, the good news is that most of these people can mitigate, or even reverse the effects of NAFLD. Some of the most important steps in reducing the impact of a fatty liver include:
- Eat whole, healthy foods – Although NAFLD isn’t completely understood, it’s clear that some foods are more likely to result in liver fat deposits. This includes foods high in processed ingredients and sugars. Reducing consumption of these foods is recommended. Reducing your consumption of sodium, saturated fats and trans fats is also recommended.
Instead, increase your intake of whole foods, including fruits, vegetables and high-quality proteins like fish.
- Lose weight – The research on NAFLD is also clear that weight loss helps. In fact, nothing increases the chances of reversing fatty liver as much as losing weight. Research suggests that you should aim to lose 10 percent of your total body weight, but a smaller decrease will also be helpful.
- Reduce or eliminate alcohol consumption – Cirrhosis and alcohol consumption are closely linked, as the liver is badly stressed by the presence of alcohol. Ideally, alcohol consumption should be ceased entirely, but limiting intake to one or two drinks will help if you cannot completely quit.
- Cleanse the liver – Various botanicals, like burdock, and supplements can be used to cleanse the liver of toxic material quickly. A grapefruit juice and olive oil cleanse can also help control toxic material in the liver, as well.
Improving your overall health is the best approach to improving your liver health, which makes sense. The liver is essential in hundreds of bodily functions, and supporting it with better habits, better diet and the occasional cleanse will help support those bodily functions. It can also help reduce the impact of NAFLD, even reversing it for many people.