What is Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?

As much as 25% of the U.S. population suffers from a condition known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). What is it? It’s just what it sounds like: excess fat in the liver.

This number isn’t surprising. More than 35% of American adults are obese and another 30% are overweight and being overweight is thought to be a strong contributing factor to NAFLD.

“Thought to be” because the truth is that the medical and scientific communities are not (yet) sure what causes NAFLD, but growing evidence points to certain accompanying conditions. In addition to being obese (or just overweight), topping the suspect list are:

  • Insulin resistance (and metabolic syndrome)
  • High blood sugar indicating type 2 diabetes or pre-diabetes
  • High triglyceride levels

Other risk factors include:

  • Excess fat concentrated in the abdominal area
  • Sleep apnea
  • Polycistic ovary syndrome
  • Underactive thyroid

Even though these conditions often accompany fatty liver disease, not everyone who has NAFLD is overweight or has any of these other conditions.


How Do You Know if You Have Fatty Liver Disease?

Most people with NAFLD do not know they have it because there are usually no symptoms. When there are, the symptoms are fatigue and discomfort in the upper right area of your abdomen.

Most people may never suffer symptoms of NAFLD and the disease does not progress.  For others, however, it can develop into nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a more aggressive form of fatty liver disease indicated by liver inflammation. NASH can lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and, eventually, liver failure.


How Can You Prevent Fatty Liver Disease?

If you don’t already have NAFLD, you certainly don’t want to get it, and if you do have it (and don’t even know it), you’ll want to take steps to make sure it doesn’t progress.

To decrease your risk of developing fatty liver disease, or diminish its effects if you have already reached that point, the recommendations are:

  • Increase your consumption of fruits and veggies
  • Decrease your consumption of saturated fats and red meat
  • Eat more fish and the other foods included in the Mediterranean diet
  • Lose weight — 5% of your total body weight is helpful, 7-10% would be even better
  • Don’t lose the weight too fast (Oddly, this might contribute to having a fatty liver.)
  • Drink alcohol only moderately, or not at all
  • Exercise at least 30 minutes a day several days a week
  • Avoid sugar
  • Limit your consumption of processed carbohydrates such as rice, pasta, & grains

Did everything on that list sound familiar?  It should – these same lifestyle choices are what keep all the other parts of you healthy.

Other things you can do:

  • Check with your doctor about any medications you take that may affect your liver (or damage it).
  • Consider adding 250 mg a day of annatto tocotrienol. A trial conducted on patients with NAFLD found that this form of Vitamin E reduced fat and inflammation of the liver.
  • Get vaccinated for hepatitis A and B. Both these viruses will damage your liver.

Your liver is the largest internal organ in your body and it does all kinds of good and difficult things for you. Be kind to it!

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