The liver contains some amount of fat used in regular bodily processes. Sometimes, the fat in the liver builds up, resulting in fatty liver disease. The disease makes it hard for the liver to perform its regular functions, although on some occasions it could lead to liver damage. Most people who suffer from fatty liver don’t feel any pain or ever experience any fatty liver symptoms, whether serious or mild.
In spite of this, your liver is one of the most important organs in your body, being responsible for many life-supporting functions such as producing bile for digestion, converting nutrients into energy, and even producing immune cells and naturally detoxing the body. That’s why you should be really careful and try to be on the lookout for any signs of fatty liver. Even if you’ve been diagnosed, you can easily reverse this condition with some lifestyle changes such as a fatty liver diet.
What is a Fatty Liver
Hepatic steatosis, commonly referred to as fatty liver, is a disease or condition resulting from excess fat storage in the liver. It happens when the fat is more than 5% or even 10% of your liver’s total weight.
The condition doesn’t have any symptoms, making it hard for one to notice it, and can only be identified by a medical diagnosis. It can be damaging to your liver, messing with things like:
- Bile production
- Iron storage
- Production of proteins
- Production of immune factors
- Blood clotting
Types of Fatty Liver
Fatty liver disease falls into two categories:
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD)
AFLD affects those who drink alcohol excessively. When the excess alcohol is broken down in the liver, it generates harmful substances leading to inflammation and cell damage.
Stopping alcohol consumption at this point can reverse the disease. Consuming more alcohol worsens the situation, leading to alcoholic hepatitis or liver cirrhosis.
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
This fatty liver disease might target those who don’t drink too much alcohol, affecting more than 80-100 million people in the US. NAFLD divides into two categories, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) and simple fatty liver.
Simple fatty liver occurs when there is little to no damage to the liver cells but there is fat accumulation in the liver.
On the other hand, NASH consists of damaged liver cells, inflammation, and fat accumulation. It can progress to more severe conditions.
Causes of Fatty Liver
The major cause of fatty liver is high alcohol consumption. It can alter the liver’s metabolic processes, which leads to fat accumulation in the liver when combined with fatty acids. This creates a type of fat that the liver cannot dissolve, creating a buildup of fat.
The cause of fatty liver disease in nonalcoholic drinkers is still unclear. It might be that their bodies cannot metabolize fat efficiently. They may also produce more fat than the liver can handle.
Some of the reasons that might contribute to fatty liver in people who don’t consume a lot of alcohol include:
- Type 2 diabetes
- High-fat levels in the blood
- Insulin resistance
- Metabolic syndrome
Pregnant women can also develop fatty liver due to the changes in their bodies, for example, changing metabolism to cater to the fetus.
In other cases, certain medications can have side effects causing the disease. Others might develop fatty liver disease from rare genetic conditions or develop infections such as hepatitis C that lead to fatty liver.
Symptoms of Fatty Liver
Most people suffering from fatty liver don’t show any symptoms. In rare cases, the liver can enlarge leading to discomfort or pain. The pain is more noticeable on the abdomen’s upper right side, between the chest and hips.
Some of the symptoms that might indicate fatty liver include:
- Weight loss
- Feeling nauseous
- Loss of appetite
Diagnosing Fatty Liver Disease
Your doctor will need the following info to determine whether you have fatty liver:
- Your medical history
- Your family‘s medical history
- A physical exam including a few tests, such as CT or Ultrasound scan, fibroscan, and liver biopsy
- Your lifestyle habits including alcohol consumption
- The medication you are on
- Whether you have underlying medical conditions that might contribute to the disease
Treatment and Cure for Fatty Liver
There are no prescribed medications for fatty liver disease. However, there are ways to reverse it. These include:
1. Weight Loss
For overweight or obese people reducing their weight by at least 5% can decrease disease activity. However, this is not a guarantee that the disease will go away.
The best way to go about it is by observing regular exercise and eating a balanced diet. This ensures you lose weight more healthily and staves off any unwanted risks.
2. Reducing/ Eliminating Alcohol Consumption
If you have ALD, you can reduce your alcohol consumption. Giving up alcohol completely might be difficult for some, but you can get advice from your doctor on how to proceed. Ask them about safe ways to reduce and ultimately stop alcohol consumption.
Related: 10 Best Ways to Stop Drinking Alcohol
In some cases, alcoholic fatty liver disease can trigger liver failure or cirrhosis. Simply cutting out alcohol or losing weight will not solve these conditions. You can get medication or surgery to treat these complications in such situations. In worst-case scenarios, you may need a liver transplant.
4. Lifestyle Changes
Making lifestyle changes is one way of indirectly dealing with fatty liver disease.
Regulating Food Intake/ Cutting Out Some Foods
Some minor changes you can make include reducing the consumption of foods high in saturated fats, sugar, or carbohydrates. Eat smaller portions of food to reduce the intake of harmful substances.
Stay away from red meat or foods containing simple sugars. Focus on foods with enough fiber and safer meats such as white meat.
Regular exercise is an important lifestyle change. Try to get at least 3 hours of physical exercise every week. Do activities that raise your heart rate, such as bike riding, hiking, or exercising on a treadmill.
You should also get vaccines for diseases such as hepatitis A and B. These and other viral infections can damage the liver leading to fatty liver disease and more dangerous conditions. Take supplements that can improve your AST and ALT levels. They also assist in reducing excess fat and inflammation that contribute to fatty liver disease.
Find out from your doctor which lifestyle changes can help prevent or reverse fatty liver disease. Also, ask about safe supplements, as consuming too many supplements, or certain kinds of supplements can stress your liver.
What Happens if Fatty Liver Goes Untreated?
Fatty liver disease doesn’t lead to any major problems. However, it can progress into other diseases, such as liver cirrhosis. Leaving cirrhosis untreated for a long time is very risky, as it can result in liver cancer or liver failure.
The liver is an essential organ that you cannot live without. Get regular screenings and physical exams to ensure you don’t have fatty liver. Moreover, eat a balanced diet, work out regularly, and observe a healthy lifestyle to prevent the disease.