The liver may not get the recognition it deserves in comparison to other major organs, but it is certainly just as important and crucial to your health. The liver does many jobs, such as cleaning your blood, producing bile and storing energy1The Digestive Process: The Liver and its Many Functions. Hopkinsmedicine.org. Retrieved 4 January 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/the-digestive-process-the-liver-and-its-many-functions., but when excess fat builds up in your liver, these jobs can become impossible to do2Liver – fatty liver disease – Better Health Channel. Betterhealth.vic.gov.au. Retrieved 4 January 2022, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/liver-fatty-liver-disease.. This is known as fatty liver disease, or at the very least, the beginning of it. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), specifically, affects approximately 24% of adults in the United States. It is also considered one of the most common forms of liver disease in children3NASH, D., & Health, N. (2021). Definition & Facts of NAFLD & NASH | NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved 4 January 2022, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/nafld-nash/definition-facts.. But how does it happen and what does it do to your body, and most importantly, what can you do to cure it? In this article, we cover it all – from the two types of fatty liver disease to the natural remedies you can use to boost your liver health once again.
What is Fatty Liver Disease?
Fatty liver disease is when excess fat builds up in your liver. There are two different main types: Alcoholic fatty liver disease caused by heavy alcohol use and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which is when the buildup of fat is not caused by heavy alcohol use. As such, the cause of NAFLD is less clear. Although, it is believed that the body either produces too much fat or doesn’t metabolize fat efficiently4Armand, MD,, W. (2020). Fatty liver disease: What it is and what to do about it – Harvard Health. Harvard Health. Retrieved 4 January 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fatty-liver-disease-what-it-is-and-what-to-do-about-it-2019011015746..
There are also many additional factors that can contribute to NAFLD, such as:
- High levels of fat in blood
- Infections, such as hepatitis C
- Insulin Resistance
- Metabolic syndrome
- Rare genetic conditions
- Type 2 diabetes
What Are The Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease?
While fatty liver disease is fairly straightforward (fat building up in the liver), the development of the disease is a little more complex. For example, there are four phases of fatty liver disease that the liver may go through when excess fat begins to buildup:
- Simple fatty liver: A buildup of excess fat begins and is largely harmless if it doesn’t progress
- Steatohepatitis: A combination of excess fat and inflammation in the liver occurs.
- Fibrosis: The persistent inflammation in the liver begins to cause scarring, but the liver can still function normally
- Cirrhosis: Scarring becomes widespread and the liver’s ability to function becomes impaired.
The last stage of fatty liver disease is the most severe and is considered to be irreversible for both AFLD and NAFLD. Oftentimes, symptoms will be unnoticeable or you may feel tired, discomfort or pain in the right side of your abdomen up until then. Once you’ve reached the Cirrhosis stage, you may begin to develop additional symptoms, such as:
- Abdominal pain
- Breast enlargement (in men)
- Clusters of blood cells in your legs under the skin
- Dark colored urine
- Easy bruising or bleeding
- Fluid in the abdomen
- Loss of appetite
- Itchy skin
- Pale stools
- Swelling in your legs
- Weight loss
Some individuals with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can develop nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which is an aggressive form of fatty liver disease. It’s marked by inflammation in the liver and can progress to advanced scarring (cirrhosis), as well as liver failure. This damage is as severe and similar to the damage caused by heavy alcohol use.
If you do notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to follow a treatment plan to help stop fatty liver from progressing and causing complications.
Additionally, if you’ve been diagnosed with any fatty liver disease, you’ll want to look for signs that your conditioning is worsening. These include loss of appetite, fatigue, weight loss, weakness, bleeding and fluid retention.
Natural Remedies for Treating Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
There is overwhelming evidence that a healthy lifestyle and diet is all you need to beat this disease. However, there are many additional home remedies and lifestyle habits you can implement to beat NAFLD and boost your overall health.
Eat a clean diet
Your diet can directly impact and improve your fatty liver. As a rule of thumb, you’ll want to aim to eat foods from all food groups, including fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy and healthy oils and fats. You’ll also want to try to avoid anything processed, or packaged or that is known to be damaging to your liver, such as alcohol. Some additional things to consider:
- Eat a nutrient-rich diet that’s low in excess calories, saturated fat, and trans fats
- Take vitamin E supplements and other antioxidants to help protect your liver by reducing inflammation5El Hadi, H., Vettor, R., & Rossato, M. (2018). Vitamin E as a Treatment for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Reality or Myth?. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 7(1), 12. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox7010012
- Lower your cholesterol
- Avoid alcohol
- Focus on foods rich in fiber as it can help improve the function of your liver
- Stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water
- Limit foods that are high in salt, refined carbs, saturated fats and trans fats, such as:
- Sweets, white bread, white rice, refined grains, red meat, full fat dairy, fried foods, processed foods, etc.
- Avoid raw or undercooked shellfish as it can contain bacteria or viruses that can make you seriously ill.6Thompson Jr, D. (2010). Tips to Avoid Liver Damage From Hepatitis – Hepatitis Center – Everyday Health. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved 4 January 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/hepatitis/tips-to-avoid-liver-damage-from-hepatitis.aspx.
- Avoid foods with added sugars
Although losing weight is often easier said than done, it is a key step for managing fatty liver disease and worth every ounce of effort. Counting calories and increasing your physical activity to create a caloric deficit will help you shed some extra pounds and increase your health, far beyond just your liver. Here are some additional tips to help you get started:
- Consider intermittent fasting
- Count your calories
- Portion control
- Eat on smaller plates
- Drink a full glass of water before each meal
- Limit your consumption of foods that are high in calories
Be more active
Aiming to be more physically active each day is a great way to lose weight and manage fatty liver disease7van der Windt, D. J., Sud, V., Zhang, H., Tsung, A., & Huang, H. (2018). The Effects of Physical Exercise on Fatty Liver Disease. Gene expression, 18(2), 89–101. https://doi.org/10.3727/105221617X15124844266408. It’s recommended to try to get at least 30 minutes of exercise every day of the week – or at the very least, most of the days of the week. Some tips to help you with this step include:
- Think outside of the traditional styles of exercise and find something you enjoy doing
- Go hiking, play a sport, or go for a brisk walk with your dog
- Find a workout buddy
- Park further away from the front entrance
- Use the stairs instead of the elevator
Helpful Tips for Prevention
In addition to making some powerful lifestyle and diet changes to begin treating fatty liver disease, you’ll also want to take some preventative actions to prevent your condition from worsening. This includes:
- Avoid medications and supplements that are hard on your liver
- Manage your blood sugar, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol levels
- Treat your diabetes, if you have it
- Get your vitamins and minerals in
- Drink more coffee (regular coffee consumption reduces liver damage)
- Start reading the ingredient lists
- Try adding liver-helping herbs into your diet, such as turmeric, resveratrol, milk thistle and green tea
While you may not be experiencing major problems with fatty liver disease, as most people don’t, it’s important to take the proper steps needed to prevent more serious problems from occurring. A few simple changes can make a huge difference in the way you feel, and how well your liver functions. If left untreated, you risk processing into cirrhosis of the liver which can eventually lead to liver cancer and even liver failure, which can be fatal. So, get in the habit of making these healthy lifestyles and diet choices and your liver will thank you for it later.
- 1The Digestive Process: The Liver and its Many Functions. Hopkinsmedicine.org. Retrieved 4 January 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/the-digestive-process-the-liver-and-its-many-functions.
- 2Liver – fatty liver disease – Better Health Channel. Betterhealth.vic.gov.au. Retrieved 4 January 2022, from https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/liver-fatty-liver-disease.
- 3NASH, D., & Health, N. (2021). Definition & Facts of NAFLD & NASH | NIDDK. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Retrieved 4 January 2022, from https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/nafld-nash/definition-facts.
- 4Armand, MD,, W. (2020). Fatty liver disease: What it is and what to do about it – Harvard Health. Harvard Health. Retrieved 4 January 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/fatty-liver-disease-what-it-is-and-what-to-do-about-it-2019011015746.
- 5El Hadi, H., Vettor, R., & Rossato, M. (2018). Vitamin E as a Treatment for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Reality or Myth?. Antioxidants (Basel, Switzerland), 7(1), 12. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox7010012
- 6Thompson Jr, D. (2010). Tips to Avoid Liver Damage From Hepatitis – Hepatitis Center – Everyday Health. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved 4 January 2022, from https://www.everydayhealth.com/hepatitis/tips-to-avoid-liver-damage-from-hepatitis.aspx.
- 7van der Windt, D. J., Sud, V., Zhang, H., Tsung, A., & Huang, H. (2018). The Effects of Physical Exercise on Fatty Liver Disease. Gene expression, 18(2), 89–101. https://doi.org/10.3727/105221617X15124844266408