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The liver is your largest internal organ, performing over 500 vital jobs in the body. Most people take this hardworking organ for granted and don’t support it like they need to. If you sustain liver damage, or it isn’t working as well as it should be, things get bad fast. For example, if your liver becomes fatty, it won’t function properly. That, in turn, damages your health, even if you don’t know it. And the prevalence of this liver injury is worrying. In 2020, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease was the most common chronic liver disease. According to the NIH, it affected 25% of the global population. In 2020, Harvard Health estimated it to be 20-40%. If you haven’t checked in on your liver, it might be time to do so. [1]

What’s so Important About the Liver?

The liver clears out harmful toxins, like alcohol and medications, from the blood. It even clears out excess hormones like estrogens. That’s important because recirculated estrogens can contribute to estrogen dominance and all the health issues that go with it. Today, our bodies are bombarded with many toxins that can overload our livers. These enter our bodies through food, water, personal care products, and the environment. This toxin exposure makes the liver work much harder and can cause inflammation. The liver produces bile to break down fats and aids digestion. It also makes blood clotting factors and stores energy, vitamins, and minerals like iron. The liver also stores fat. That’s one of its jobs, but when it starts storing too much fat, it can become a fatty liver, which is dangerous. MedlinePlus considers a liver fatty (hepatic steatosis) if it contains 5-10% fat. [2]

NAFLD is a Growing Problem

A fatty liver can lead to inflammation in the liver tissue. When the liver tries to halt inflammation, it can lead to fibrosis (a buildup of scar tissue). [3] NASH (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis) happens if the scarring becomes advanced (cirrhosis). Advanced scarring can lead to needing a liver transplant, liver failure, or liver cancer. The most common type of liver cancer is called hepatocellular carcinoma. The NIH estimates that about 1.5-6.5% of US adults have NASH. [1]

Doctors are seeing this more and more while more people end up on the liver transplant list. Fatty liver is a huge problem.  

The liver problem is partly because of a high rate of overweight Americans. Over 70% of adults over 20 are overweight or obese. [4] The rate of obesity in children has tripled since the 1970s, with almost 1 in 5 school-age children being obese. [5] On top of that, over 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes. [6] Both diabetes and prediabetes are a matter of insulin resistance. These numbers are part of why experts predict children today will have a shortened life span. 

Because of these growing numbers, there will be an increased need for liver transplants. NAFLD is likely to become the most common indicator for liver transplantation. [7] There’s no drug to cure NAFLD. Growing numbers of transplants will impact the quality and availability of donors’ livers. 

Potential Symptoms of NAFLD

Many are living with NAFLD and don’t even know it because, for many, there are no symptoms. When symptoms do occur, they may include: 

  • Fatigue or feeling tired 
  • Difficulty losing weight 
  • Weight loss 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Weakness 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Mental confusion 
  • Difficulty focusing 
  • Abdominal pain 
  • Enlarged liver 
  • Bloating and gas 
  • Dark urine 
  • Bruising easily 
  • Excessive perspiration 
  • Constipation 
  • Pale or dark tar-colored stool. Your liver makes the bile needed for digestion. Without it, food doesn’t get digested as thoroughly. 
  • Dry and dark patches on the neck and underarms  
  • Jaundice — yellowing of the skin and eyes 

Get Your Liver Function Tested

The only way to know if you have NAFLD is to test. It’s essential to see a proficient provider. Do they test more thoroughly than the standard medical approach? Mayo Clinic shares some tests usually done to diagnose NAFLD. [3] These include lipid profile blood tests and imaging tests. These imaging tests include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). Transient elastography and a Fibroscan ultrasound are a few other examples. Your doctor may also test for chronic viral hepatitis, such as hepatitis C. If these tests are inconclusive, your doctor may recommend a liver biopsy. 

At The Wellness Way, we run a liver panel. This test looks at various factors that will differ from standard liver enzymes. We check the entire function of the liver to ensure it produces what it is supposed to. Everything must be at a healthy, functioning level. Our goal isn’t just to get our patients better—it’s to restore their health. Any excess fat on the liver isn’t healthy, even if it’s not at NAFLD levels. 

Risk Factors or Simultaneous Symptoms? 

PubMed says that NAFLD has a prevalence of 70% among type 2 diabetes patients. [8The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) is an offshoot of the NIH. [9] The NIH lists other health conditions people with NAFLD have a higher risk of. These health conditions include cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Metabolic syndrome and conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and triglycerides in the blood are also listed. However, the source of many of these risk factors is the same as NAFLD. What is that?  

Eating Fat Doesn’t Cause Fatty Liver

A common misconception is that eating fat causes a fatty liver. This isn’t the case; your body needs healthy fats to break down vitamins A, D, E, and K.  The actual cause is sugar, a major part of the standard American diet. Sugar is converted into excess fat by the liver and stored in the body. An increase in fat production means an increase in fat deposition. These fat deposits get stored in the liver and throughout the body. Sugar is wrecking the health of your liver. [10][11] 

With so much sugar in the American diet, many people haven’t been kind to their hardworking liver. There’s no one magic treatment option. But the good news is that liver cells, like all cells in the body, are regenerative. It’s just a matter of whether you’re working with that regeneration or against it. 

5 Lifestyle Changes to Support Liver Function

1 – Know What Your Liver Function Is

That means getting tested. One size fits none. You have to know how your body is currently functioning to follow up with a plan. Gather the information you need before proceeding. Get tested so you can address the situation now before it becomes more severe down the road. 

2 – Add Bitters to Your Diet

Bitters are in foods like arugula, spinach, kale, dandelion leaves, limes, lemons, and others. The bitter taste and acidic qualities promote digestion and liver function. If you don’t think you can get enough of those in your diet, try some of our herbal supplements! Learn more about the benefits of bitters here.

3 – Cut Down on Sugar and Carbs

A fatty liver does not come from overeating fat. It comes from overeating sugar and carbs. The body converts sugar into fat to store for later use. This is one of the ways we end up with childhood obesity being so prevalent. If you eat like the food pyramid, you’ll end up looking like the food pyramid. Instead, eat what your body needs to maintain healthy organs and processes. 

4 – Eat More Healthy Fat

Healthy fats support your liver function, along with your entire body. Sources of healthy fats include avocados, coconut oil, olives, and nuts. They don’t necessarily make you or your liver fat. If anything, they help you get to and maintain a healthy weight as long as you’re not allergic to what you’re eating and you enjoy them in moderation.

5 – Increase Your Physical Activity

You have to get off the couch. Get at least 30 minutes of moving a day. It doesn’t have to be all at once. Just make sure you get your 30 minutes in. Exercise can do a lot for our bodies, including our livers. Physical activity can also help you lose weight. One study found that people who lost just 3% – 6% of their body weight reduced their liver fat levels by 35%- 40%. Get moving! 

Take Care of Your Liver So It Can Take Care of You

Your liver is a vital organ. It removes toxins, aids digestion, and supports homeostasis. NAFLD can lead to severe conditions. Liver disease affects one out of ten Americans, making it one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States. Check-in with your liver occasionally because your liver might require a diet. There is no medical treatment for NAFLD. Finding a Wellness Way practitioner who can test and address the contributing causes is essential. Contact a Wellness Way clinic near you today!

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Disclaimer: This content is for educational purposes only. It’s not intended as a substitute for the advice provided by your Wellness Way clinic or personal physician, especially if currently taking prescription or over-the-counter medications. Pregnant women, in particular, should seek the advice of a physician before trying any herb or supplement listed on this website. Always speak with your individual clinic before adding any medication, herb, or nutritional supplement to your health protocol. Information and statements regarding dietary supplements have not been evaluated by the FDA and are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.

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