Fatty liver disease: What is it and how to reverse this condition

Fatty liver occurs when excess fat accumulates inside liver cells.  This means normal, healthy liver tissue becomes partly replaced with fatty tissue. The fat starts to invade the liver, gradually infiltrating the healthy liver areas, so that less and less healthy liver tissue remains. The fatty liver has a yellow greasy appearance and is often enlarged and swollen with fat.

Fatty liver is now recognised as the most common cause of abnormal liver function test results in the USA, UK and Australia. Around one in five people in the general population, in the USA and Australia has a fatty liver.  Fatty liver is usually associated with abdominal obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.  If severe, it can eventually lead to cirrhosis and liver failure.

Fatty liver disease occurs when an excess amount of fat is present in your liver. This can be due to several underlying conditions such as:

  • obesity
  • type 2 diabetes
  • excess alcohol intake

Lifestyle factors, including a high fat diet and a sedentary lifestyle, can increase your risk of fatty liver disease.

Types of Fatty Liver Disease

Most people with a fatty liver are unaware of their liver problem due to the vague and non-specific symptoms, especially during the early stages. Therefore, determining the type and underlying cause of your fatty liver disease is the first step in the reversal process.

Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (ALD)

As the name suggests, chronic alcohol consumption or alcohol abuse leads to alcoholic fatty liver disease. Since your liver and kidneys are your body’s primary detoxifying systems, they take the most hit from alcohol dependence.

In addition, long-term alcohol consumption weakens liver cells, which causes extensive inflammation and impairs the liver’s ability to function normally.

ALD can cause nausea, vomiting, fever, jaundice, abdominal discomfort, and alcoholic cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the accumulation of liver fibrosis, or scar tissue, which ultimately results in liver failure that can be fatal. A person has a higher chance of recovery in each stage if they refrain from drinking alcohol.

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)

A more comprehensive range of factors, like fatty buildup from a poor diet, inactivity, genetic susceptibility, or health disorders connected to metabolic syndrome like obesity and type 2 diabetes, can contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

It can be challenging to reverse non-alcoholic fatty liver disease since there are many potential reasons, with no one more or less relevant than the others. However, patients with NAFLD must reduce their general body weight, eliminate excess body fat, and enhance their insulin sensitivity and blood sugar regulation.

The most extreme variation of NAFLD is non-alcoholic steatohepatitis or NASH. Like an alcoholic fatty liver disease, NASH increases the risk of fatality by exposing one to cardiovascular diseases and develops into fibrosis (liver tissue scarring), cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure. It can also cause early death if one fails to receive a timely liver transplant.

Symptoms of fatty liver

Many people with a fatty liver are unaware that they even have a liver problem, as the symptoms can be vague and non-specific, especially in the early stages. Most people with a fatty liver feel generally unwell, and find they are becoming increasingly fatigued and overweight for no apparent reason.

Possible symptoms of fatty liver include:

  • Weight excess in the abdominal area
  • Elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Tiredness and frequent fatigue
  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Skin problems, acne, rashes and brown spots
  • Nausea
  • Digestive problems
  • Gallstones
  • Headaches
  • Overheating of the body
  • Immune dysfunction and/or allergies
  • Excessive sweating
  • Bad breath and/or coated tongue
  • Red itchy eyes

Definitive diagnosis of fatty liver can be done with a blood test and liver ultrasound.

Ways to Reverse Fatty Liver

Diet

The fatty liver diet eliminates refined carbohydrates, artificial flavours, and processed sweeteners like fructose. Instead, it favours a diet low in carbohydrates made up of foods like whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, as well as fish, nuts, and seeds that consist of omega-3 fatty acids that assist you in controlling levels of inflammation. Abstaining from consuming alcohol is also crucial in reversing alcohol-induced fatty liver disease.

Medication

There are no medicines prescribed particularly to treat NAFLD. However, your doctor may suggest some drugs and supplements based on your medical conditions. For prevention against hepatitis A and B, which might harm your liver, you might require vaccinations. Additionally, it’s critical to receive an annual flu shot.

Natural supplements may be better than medicines that increase the burden on the liver when treating fatty liver, but be sure to see your doctor before taking any new supplement. You can take amino acids, turmeric, milk thistle, and vitamin E.

Rest

Studies show that stress worsens inflammation in the body resulting in increased adverse effects of fatty liver. Rest involves obtaining regular, high-quality sleep and prioritising stress-relieving activities, such as yoga in the morning, watching movies with friends or doing fun things with your kids on the weekends.

Taking charge of your schedule to make time for relaxing activities can help lessen inflammation in the body just as much as taking supplements or medications.

Lifestyle changes

Physical activity by itself can help you lower the amount of inflammation in your liver. Engaging in both aerobic exercise and resistance training can help to reduce fatty liver disease.

A 2018 review found that moderate exercise with or without dietary changes led to a reduction of liver fat. The study authors defined moderate exercise as 20 to 60 minutes for 4 to 7 days each week, or more than 200 minutes a week.

In a 2013 study of 154 people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), exercise and diet interventions resulted in the remission of fatty liver disease in 64% of participants.

How long does it take to clean a fatty liver?

How long it takes to reverse fatty liver disease may depend on the cause. If your fatty liver is because of alcohol, you may be able to reverse the effects in about 2 weeks.

If you have NAFLD, it will depend on how quickly you lose weight. But remember, be careful not to lose weight too quickly. If you’re overweight, losing about 7% to 10% of your body weight safely may be enough to reduce the unwanted side effects of your fatty liver.

Doctors usually consider a fatty liver a “clinically silent disease.” This means it doesn’t usually cause a lot of symptoms. While you work to “clean” your liver, you may not know right away how your liver is changing.

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