Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty Liver Disease

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If you’re like most people, you’ve probably never considered the possibility of having Fatty Liver Disease, right!?  After all, what is it and why would you ever be affected by it?

Here’s the thing, to most, having a fatty liver doesn’t sound at all pleasant, does it? Yet it’s reckoned that as many as 10% or possibly even 30% of people living in the west have this condition[1].

In the past, it just used to be associated with alcoholism, but in the 21st century, it’s becoming an increasingly common problem even among people who don’t drink too much. This is largely because of our increasingly unhealthy diet; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is strongly associated with obesity.

Listen, if you’ve had problems with weight gain, then you’re going to want to pay attention, because the liver plays a much larger role than you may have ever thought.  In fact, one study found that of those who had been diagnosed with having fatty liver, approximately 16.5% of lean people and 75% of obese people had the condition

How Do You Know if Your Liver is Fatty?

Perhaps the scariest thing about fatty liver disease is that there are not necessarily any symptoms.  That’s right, you may have it and not know.

With fatty liver, there is no easy diagnosis – blood tests aren’t conclusive, although if a routine blood test for something else indicates raised levels of liver enzymes, this might be a sign that you have a fatty liver. Imaging techniques can help with a diagnosis, but getting a clear diagnosis involves getting a liver biopsy[3], and who wants that?

What Causes a Fatty Liver?

There is still a lot of guesswork involved in figuring out why some people get non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.  One likely reason is that it’s linked to insulin resistance. As we become fatter, insulin stops controlling our blood sugar levels properly. This increases the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but it also increases the amount of fatty acids in the bloodstream, which can damage the liver[4].

Although the risk of the disease leading to death is quite low, a study in Minnesota found that the mortality rate for people with fatty livers was higher than the population in general. Liver disease was the third leading cause of death for participants in this study on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, as compared to the thirteenth leading cause of death for the population as a whole[5].

How Serious Can it be?

Fatty acids in the bloodstream can inflame the liver, leading to a condition known as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH).  It’s reckoned that about 5-10% of people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease will develop NASH. This can be a relatively benign problem, or it can develop onto cirrhosis, where the liver is scarred permanently. This can lead to liver failure or cancer of the liver. It’s not known exactly how many people with NASH go on to develop cirrhosis. Estimates vary from as little as 3% to as high as 26%3. Whatever the stats, its best to do everything you can to avoid this very unpleasant condition.

It’s also thought that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is often a factor in the development of metabolic syndrome[6]. The link between the two has been found in both obese and non-obese people with the disease[7].

Symptoms of metabolic syndrome are often similar to diabetes as the two often overlap, but a tell-tale sign is an increase in fat around the waist[8].

Is There A Cure?

Drugs for diabetes have been used to try and treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, but the results have been pretty disappointing3.  More research needs to be done.

For the time being, the best way of preventing or reversing a fatty liver is by making lifestyle changes.

  • A low carb diet has been found to be relatively effective at decreasing the risk of both metabolic syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease[9].
  • If you have been diagnosed with the condition, or are overweight and at risk, you should try to lose weight. A moderate weight-loss plan which you can stick to might reverse fatty liver disease[10]. Speak to your doctor or nutritionist if you need help with weight loss.
  • Aim to lose weight at a sensible rate (at around 2lb a week).
  • Increase the amount of exercise you do. If your lifestyle is not very active, start by walking for at least 30 minutes 3-5 times each week.  If you are already quite active and healthy, think about stepping up your exercise programme, maybe involving short bursts of high-intensity training.[11]

If you’re wanting to lose weight while overcoming fatty liver and need some help, don’t hesitate to reach out to us for help.

  • [1] Bedogni G, Miglioli L, Masutti F, Tiribelli C, Marchesini G, Bellentani S. Prevalence of and risk factors for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: the Dionysos nutrition and liver study. Hepatology. 2005; 42:44–52.
  • [2] Bellentani S, Saccoccio G, Masutti F, et al. Prevalence of and risk factors for hepatic steatosis in Northern Italy. Ann Intern Med. 2000;132:112–117
  • [3] http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/hepatology/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/
  • [4] http://www.health.harvard.edu/diseases-and-conditions/when-the-liver-gets-fatty
  • [5] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16012941
  • [6] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11473047
  • [7] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10569299/
  • [8] http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/metabolic-syndrome/symptoms-causes/dxc-20197520
  • [9] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4066051/
  • [10] http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/hepatology/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/
  • [11] http://www.clevelandclinicmeded.com/medicalpubs/diseasemanagement/hepatology/nonalcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/


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