Keeping your liver supported and strong is one of the most important steps you can take to maintain overall wellness. This critically hard-working organ, which is located in the right abdominal area, has been called the “laboratory of the body,” and for many good reasons. Unfortunately, more and more people are developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and don’t even know it.
Researchers estimate that the liver performs over 500 functions in the body. Some of these include:
- Filtering all food and liquids, assimilating and distributing nutrients, and removing toxins and waste products.
- Creating bile, necessary for digestion of fats and other substances
- Burning and metabolizing fat and calories in the body
- Regulating hormones
- Purifying the blood and removes damaged blood cells
- Performing many necessary circulatory functions
- Balancing blood sugar
- Regulating fluid levels in the body
- Storing and distributing vitamins, minerals, and other crucial nutrients
- Boosting the immune system
The liver is actively involved in keeping your body free from disease of all types. It is also true that a poorly operating liver can contribute to a myriad of illnesses and debilitating health conditions. There are many types of liver disease and dysfunction, but the most common and hazardous is called fatty liver.
Related: Liver Disease
What is Fatty Liver Disease?
Fatty liver is also known as Non-Alcoholic Steatorrhoeic Hepatitis (NASH) or Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD). The technical description of fatty liver is quite complex, but basically fatty liver disease is just as it sounds – too much fat in and around the liver. In fact, healthy liver tissue can be displaced by unhealthy fats, and vacant spaces within the liver are abnormally occupied by fat. In addition, those with fatty liver disease will often accumulate excess fat surrounding the organ itself, contributing to an overabundance of body fat in the abdominal area.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease affects as many as one in five Americans, according to the American Liver Association. And for those with diabetes, says VA physician-researcher Kenneth Cusi, MD, the rate may be as high as four in five. More than 80 million Americans have this deadly disease, and many don’t even know it. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease affects an estimated 80 million to 100 million Americans. Despite risks, there are no official recommendations for routine screening. They defined NAFLD as the presence of hepatic steatosis on ultrasound in the absence of elevated alcohol consumption.
The more progressive — and therefore more worrisome — form of the disease is known as NASH, or nonalcoholic steatohepatitis. By this stage the disease has progressed to liver inflammation, which can lead to cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer — similar to the kind of damage occurring with heavy alcohol use. Dr. Rohit Loomba, chairman of the American Liver Foundation’s National Medical Advisory Committee, estimates that about 30 million Americans have NASH. Dr. Loomba says that 90 percent of the patients diagnosed with NASH are either overweight or obese. “Obesity and diabetes rates are very high in the U.S. and are also increasing worldwide,” he says. “So when we look at the rising rates of NASH in people who don’t drink and don’t have hepatitis C yet are still developing cirrhosis of the liver, we know something is damaging the liver and we’re not containing it.”
A healthy liver is typically reddish in color because the blood is meant to flow through channels in the interior of the liver composed of layers of liver cells. This is the way the liver is meant to function – as a very efficient filter for absorbing nutrients and ridding the body of toxins. A fatty liver becomes clogged with excess fat cells, seriously hampering the liver’s ability to do its many vital jobs. A fatty liver loses its red color and becomes heavier, enlarged, and greasy yellow in appearance. These abnormalities can often be discovered by an ultrasound scan or via a liver biopsy.
Because nonalcoholic fatty liver disease causes no symptoms in most cases, it frequently comes to medical attention when tests done for other reasons point to a liver concern. This can happen if your liver looks unusual on ultrasound or if you have an abnormal liver enzyme test.
Tests Done to Pinpoint Fatty Liver Disease and Determine Disease Severity Include:
- Complete blood count
- Liver enzyme and liver function tests
- Tests for chronic viral hepatitis (hepatitis A, hepatitis C and others)
- Celiac disease screening test
- Fasting blood sugar
- Hemoglobin A1C, which shows how stable your blood sugar is
- Lipid profile, which measures blood fats, such as cholesterol and triglycerides
Imaging procedures used to diagnose nonalcoholic fatty liver disease include:
- Plain ultrasound, which is often the initial test when liver disease is suspected.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scanning or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the abdomen. These techniques lack the ability to distinguish nonalcoholic steatohepatitis from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, but still may be used.
- Transient elastography, an enhanced form of ultrasound that measures the stiffness of your liver. Liver stiffness indicates fibrosis or scarring.
- Magnetic resonance elastography, which combines magnetic resonance imaging with patterns formed by sound waves bouncing off the liver to create a visual map showing gradients of stiffness throughout the liver reflecting fibrosis or scarring.
What Causes Fatty Liver Disease?
Some common causes of fatty liver include:
- An unhealthy lifestyle of poor diet (high in animal fat. preservatives, and toxic chemicals), lack of exercise, and poor hydration.
- Obesity. This is probably the biggest factor in fatty liver, especially for people over 30.
- Medications. Many are very hard on the liver including pain drugs (NSAIDs and narcotics), corticosteroids, certain antibiotics (especially tetracycline), and others. Some causes are associated with the drug tamoxifen (used to prevent breast cancer recurrence).
- Complications of pregnancy
- Exposure to toxic cleaning products, personal care products, water, food, the air, etc.
- Toxic chemicals such as glyphosate
- Excess alcohol consumption.
- May also occur in people affected by hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid gland), high blood cholesterol and polycystic ovarian syndrome.
Simply put, the harder your force your liver to work because of exposure to hazardous substances and a high-fat, nutrient-poor diet, the greater your risk for fatty liver as well as other types of liver dysfunction.
What Are the Symptoms and Complications of Fatty Liver?
Symptoms that may point toward fatty liver disease include:
- Being overweight, especially around the abdomen
- Pain and tenderness near the liver
- Elevated liver enzymes (blood test)
- Possible gall stones
- High Cholesterol and/or blood triglycerides (blood test)
- Difficulty losing weight. If you are having a difficult time taking off pounds, it may be because your fatty liver has reverted to storing fat instead of metabolizing it.
- A weakened immune system. This can open one up to a number of autoimmune and other harmful conditions.
- Chronic fatigue. When the liver is not able to rid the body of excess fat and other waste products, one will likely feel sluggish most of the time.
- Greater risk for diabetes. Fatty liver can result in insulin resistance, a key factor in diabetes. A recent study estimated that about 70% of individuals diagnosed with type-2 diabetes may also have fatty liver disease.
- Syndrome X. Also known as Metabolic Syndrome X, this condition can also be a complication of fatty liver. Syndrome X involves a number of factors including abnormally high blood pressure and/or insulin levels, too much cholesterol, and excess body fat around the waistline. Metabolic Syndrome increases risk for diabetes, stroke, and cardiac disease.
How Can Fatty Liver Be Treated or Prevented?
Obviously, prevention is always the best medicine. Fatty liver disease is definitely a “lifestyle” disease (in most cases) that can be prevented and even eliminated by making healthy choices. These include:
- A healthy diet composed mainly of nutrient-rich foods such as fresh, organic fruits and vegetables, essential fatty acids and plant-based protein sources.
- Consuming a healthy fresh juice Liver Detox 3-4 times weekly.
- An ample supply of pure filtered water. A well-hydrated liver is a happy liver that can perform its many duties optimally.
- Supplementation (and pure food sources) of antioxidants such as vitamins C and natural E (containing tocopherols and tocotrienols).
- Supplementing with N-acetylcysteine.
- Liver supporting organic/wild-crafted herbs such as Milk Thistle seed, Wildcrafted Chanca Piedra (helps with liver stones), Fringetree bark, Dandelion root, Organic Nettles root and Organic Turmeric Root. There are several reasons to use the milk thistle seed rather than silymarin extract. Using the whole herb is recommended as often it will have a more balanced effect. The milk thistle extract silymarin, for instance, has proven useful in treating liver disease. However, the main drawback to using silymarin is that, if a healthcare professional prescribes other drugs, such as steroids, silymarin can interfere with the liver’s ability to detoxify them. Milk thistle seed has the same healing effect on the liver without interfering with the organ’s ability to detoxify drugs or environmental chemicals. It also has a side benefit of normalizing blood lipids as the liver heals.
- Resveratrol. In September 2015, researchers reported that resveratrol has beneficial effects in individuals with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Resveratrol supplementation ameliorated the severity of hepatic steatosis and lowered the liver enzyme alanine aminotransferase (ALT) compared to placebo.
- A regular program of physical exercise. Exercise helps the liver to purify as well as helps the body to effectively move toxins and wastes out of the body. I highly recommend rebounding which helps with lymphatic drainage and allows one to effectively lose weight.
- Healthy weight. As stated above, obesity is one of the top allies of fatty liver disease.
- Liver cleansing. Choose an effective and non-toxic liver cleanse product or protocol that will effectively flush, purify and support your liver so that it can operate at peak efficiency. There are many herbs that are great for the liver, but they should always be either be organic or wild-crafted. Even if you do your best to live a clean life, performing a liver cleanse 2-3 times yearly is highly recommended, to “head off trouble at the pass,” so to speak.
Health Alert: Liver Cancer Is a Growing Threat
The incidence of liver cancer in several countries has doubled in the last 25 years, and the rise in cases is overwhelming specialists. Furthermore, researchers predict an additional 40% increase in liver cancer cases by the year 2035. Lead researcher Dr. Morris Sherman writes, “The prospects for surviving liver cancer are bleak, so our only hope is to intervene early and prevent the cancer happening in the first place or to find early curable cancers.” University Health Network, June 2018.
It’s becoming more and more important to pay attention to your liver and make sure that it is healthy and supported. Be proactive and practice preventative medicine. It’s much easier to work at preventing disease rather than having to work at curing disease. Be well.
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