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The liver is your largest internal organ, and it performs 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. If your liver is getting fatty, for example, it’s not going to function properly. That, in its turn, is damaging to your health, even if you don’t know it. And the prevalence of this liver injury is worrying. In 2020, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease was the most common chronic liver disease. According to the NIH1, it affected 25% of the global population. Harvard Health, in 2020, estimated it to be 20-40%. If you haven’t checked in on your liver, it might be time to do so. 

What’s so Important About the Liver? 

The liver clears out harmful toxins, like alcohol and medications, from the blood. Today, our bodies are bombarded with many toxins that can overload our livers. These enter our bodies through our food, water, body products, environment, and more. 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 produces 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. MedlinePlus2 considers a liver fatty (hepatic steatosis) if it contains 5-10% fat. 

NAFLD is a Growing Problem 

A fatty liver can lead to inflammation in the liver tissue. When the liver tries to halt inflammation, fibrosis, or a buildup of scar tissue, can be produced3. NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) happens if the scarring becomes advanced (cirrhosis). This can lead to needing a liver transplant, liver failure, or liver cancer. The most common type of liver cancer is called hepatocellular carcinoma. The NIH1 estimates that about 1.5-6.5% of US adults have NASH. 

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

The liver problem is happening partly because of a high rate of overweight Americans. Over 70% of adults over the age of 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 it’s predicted children today will have a shortened life span. 

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

PEOPLE DON’T ALWAYS HAVE SYMPTOMS OF NON-ALCOHOLIC FATTY LIVER DISEASE 

Many are living with NAFLD and don’t even know it because for many there are no symptoms. When symptoms 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 for sure if you have NAFLD is to test. It’s important to make sure you are seeing a proficient provider. Do they test more thoroughly than the standard medical approach? Mayo Clinic3 shares some tests usually done to diagnose NAFLD. 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 also recommend a liver biopsy. 

At The Wellness Way, we run a liver panel. This looks at various factors that will be different that the standard liver enzymes. We check the entire function of the liver to make sure it is producing what it is supposed to. It is important that everything is at a normal, functioning level. Our goal isn’t just to get our patients better—it’s to get them healthy. Any sort of buildup of excess fat on the liver isn’t healthy, even if it’s not at NAFLD levels. 

Risk Factors, or Simultaneous Symptoms? 

PubMed8 says that NAFLD has a prevalence of 70% among type 2 diabetes patients. 

The National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases9 (NIDDK) is an offshoot of the NIH. The NIH gives a list of 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.  

The source of many of these risk factors, though, is the same source 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 true; your body needs good, healthy fats to break down things like vitamin A, vitamin D, vitamin E, and vitamin K.  

The actual cause is sugar, which is a huge 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 FUNCTION IS 

That means getting tested. One size fits none. You have to know how your body is truly functioning to follow up with any sort of plan. Don’t go without the information you need. Get tested so you can address the situation, now, before it becomes more serious down the road. 

2 – ADD BITTERS TO YOUR DIET 

Bitters are 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, then get a bitters supplement 

3 – CUT DOWN ON SUGAR AND CARBS 

A fatty liver does not come from eating too much fat. It comes from eating too much sugar and carbs. The body converts sugar into fat to store it. This is one of the ways we end up with childhood obesity being as much of a thing as it is. If you eat like the food pyramid, you’ll end up looking like the food pyramid. Instead, eat what your body needs to maintain the organs and processes. 

4 – EAT MORE HEALTHY FAT 

These help your liver function, along with your entire body. Healthy fats are avocados, coconut oil, olives, nuts, and other things like that. They don’t 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. 

5 – 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 to combat a lot of the negative impacts on our bodies and our livers. It 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 That it can Take Care of you

Your liver is an important organ. It removes toxins, aids digestion, and supports homeostasis. NAFLD can lead to serious conditions. Liver disease affects one out of ten Americans, making it one of the top 10 causes of death in the United States. 

Don’t forget to check in on your liver because your liver might need a diet. There is no medical treatment for NAFLD. A Wellness Way practitioner that can test and address the cause of the problem is essential. By taking care of your liver with a healthy diet, and exercise, you can restore health before it’s too late. 

 

Resources 

  1. Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease 2020: The State of the Disease: PubMed 
  2. Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Medline Plus 
  3. Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Mayo Clinic 
  4. Obesity and Overweight: CDC 
  5. Obesity: CDC 
  6. New CDC report: More than 100 million Americans have diabetes or prediabetes: CDC 
  7. Liver Transplantation and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: NIH 
  8. Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus: PubMed 
  9. Definition and Facts of NAFLD & NASH: National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Disease 
  10. Carbohydrate intake and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: fructose as a weapon of mass destruction: NIH 
  11. Fructose as a key player in the development of fatty liver disease: NIH 
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