Fatty Liver Disease is characterised, as its name suggests, by too much fat being stored in the liver cells. The disease is marked by inflammation in the liver which can sometimes lead to scarring and irreversible damage of the liver. The disease is becoming increasingly common in the Western parts of the world, and in the United States, it is the most common form of liver disease, affecting 80-100 million adults.
Anyone can get the disease, but it is more common for people in their 40s and 50s who are at risk of heart disease. There are a few conditions which may cause you to develop the disease, such as being overweight or obese, having high blood sugar, insulin resistance or having high levels of fats in the blood. There are often little or no signs or symptoms associated with fatty liver disease. However, when symptoms do arise they can include:
- Enlarged liver
- Pain in the upper right abdomen
- Abdominal swelling
- Enlarged blood vessels
- Red palms
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes1
If you develop any of these symptoms, you should visit a doctor.
Treatment of fatty liver disease
There is no one treatment for fatty liver disease, but if you have diabetes, your condition could be improved by managing it. If your fatty liver disease is caused by alcohol intake, the best thing to do is to quit drinking. In general, avoiding alcohol is helpful in the treatment of fatty liver disease. If you are overweight, losing weight gradually - no more than 1 or 2 pounds a week - can help improve the disease.
Eating a balanced and healthy diet with limited high-carb foods such as bread, grains, potatoes, rice and corn can be helpful. Regular exercise is also recommended, along with cutting down drinks with lots of sugar. This includes sports drinks and fruit juices.2
Dietary changes that can help fatty liver disease
As being overweight can be a cause of fatty liver disease, losing weight and working towards a healthy body weight can help to reduce the buildup of fat in your liver. There a number of foods that are recommended for inclusion in your diet if you have fatty liver disease. These are:
- Green vegetables
- Milk and dairy products
- Sunflower seeds
- Olive oil
- Green Tea3
Studies have shown that caffeine lowers the amount of abnormal liver enzymes of people at risk for liver disease,4 while broccoli prevents the buildup of fat in the liver of mice.5 Fatty fish, like salmon, sardines, tuna and trout are all high in omega-3 fatty acids, as are walnuts, which help improve fat levels in the liver and are known to reduce inflammation.6 Avocados are high in healthy fats which contain chemicals that are known to reduce liver damage. Not only that, but they contain high levels of fibre which can help with weight control.7
Dairy, with its high amounts of whey protein might protect the liver against further damage, as one study done on rats in 2011 has shown.8 Sunflower seeds are high in the antioxidant Vitamin E which can help protect the liver against damage. Olive oil is another food high in omega-3 fatty acids, and is healthier than other oils for cooking with. It’s also been found to help lower enzyme levels in the liver and control weight.9 Garlic adds flavour to food, but some studies have also shown that it can help to reduce body weight in people with fatty liver disease.10 Data suggests that green tea interferes with fat absorption, and studies have tried to find out whether green tea can reduce fat storage in the liver and improve liver function.11
Just as there are a number of foods that might help to improve fatty liver disease, there are a number of foods that should be avoided if you have it. These are:
- Foods with added or high amounts of sugar
- Fried foods
- White bread, rice and pasta
- Red meat, particularly beef and deli meats which are high in saturated fats.12
Micronutrients and supplements for fatty liver disease
There are a number of supplements that could help with preventing further buildup of fat in the liver, while also helping with other symptoms and complications that go along with fatty liver disease.
Vitamin E and Vitamin C
These vitamins are high in antioxidants, and because oxidative stress is one of the factors that causes fatty liver disease, a supplement of one or both of these vitamins can improve symptoms of the disease.13
Curcumin is rich in antioxidants and is the active ingredient in turmeric. It is a preventative against the type of damage commonly found in fatty liver disease and other related illnesses.14 Curcumin is, however, known to interact with certain medications, particularly those for diabetes, acid reflux and anti-coagulants.
This is a catch all term for essential fatty acids, which are necessary for optimal health and wellbeing. They are linked with improving cardiovascular, brain and joint health. They are hugely helpful in bringing down cholesterol levels, and as such can help improve heart health.15
If you are on any medication, ensure you check with your healthcare provider before taking a supplement for fatty liver disease. Medications can interact with each other in a very dangerous way, so it is also best to check that it is safe to combine treatments and supplements with any medication you may be on.
It can be difficult to notice that you have fatty liver disease, because there are little to no signs or symptoms that you have high fat levels in your liver. However, if you drink a lot of alcohol, have diabetes, are overweight or obese, you are at increased risk of fat building up in your liver. The most important thing to try to maintain a healthy body weight, with a balanced diet and regular exercise. Decreasing your alcohol intake is also hugely important for the reduction and prevention of fat in the liver. If you think you might be at risk of developing the disease, or may already have it, visit with your GP.
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