Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a health condition that can lead to chronic liver damage. As the name suggests, this disease occurs when there is too much fat in the liver. Long-term effects of excess fat in the liver include inflammation and liver cell damage, which can progress to a condition called nonalcohol-related steatohepatitis (NASH).
Although NAFD is very similar to alcoholic fatty liver disease, it is not caused by drinking too much alcohol. However, there are other causes and risk factors that may contribute to this condition.
Causes And Risk Factors For NAFLD
The causes of a fatty liver are unclear, but researchers have given some possible explanations. The fat may be deposited from other parts of the body or the liver may absorb an increased amount of fat from the intestine. Another possibility is that the liver may not be able to convert the absorbed fats into a form that can be eliminated.1
Some people may be at a higher risk of developing NAFLD than because of a few risk factors. Although children and young adults can have NAFLD, it is more common in middle-aged people. And some are at a higher risk of the developing the disease than others due to a few risk factors:2
- Obesity or overweight
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
- High cholesterol levels
- Aged above 50 years
- Unhealthy lifestyle choices like smoking
Symptoms Of NAFLD
It is very challenging to diagnose the disease in its early stages as there may be no symptoms at all. However, when NAFLD develops into NASH or other advanced stages, you might experience the following symptoms:3
- A dull or aching pain in the top right side of the tummy (over the lower right side of the ribs)
- Fatigue or extreme tiredness
- Unusual weight loss
- Body weakness
As the disease progresses, it may result in a chronic condition called cirrhosis, which leads to scarring and liver damage. In such cases, severe symptoms like these may be experienced:
- Change of skin color and whites of the eyes to yellow (jaundice)
- Itchy skin
- Swelling in the legs, ankles, feet, or stomach
How To Diagnose NAFLD
As mentioned earlier, NAFLD occurs without many symptoms. Therefore, diagnosing the disease right from its beginning stages is rarely possible. Your doctor may suspect the disease if you obtain abnormal results from the routine blood test that checks liver health. Drinking too much alcohol and infections can cause abnormal blood reports, too. The only way to fully confirm the presence of the disease is with a liver biopsy.
Lifestyle Changes To Treat NAFLD
NAFLD with no other medical conditions does not require any particular medical treatment. However, these lifestyle changes can control or prevent the fat buildup in the liver.
1. Lose Weight Safely
If you find yourself with a body mass index (BMI) of above 25, it is important to reduce your weight. Always aim at a BMI between the range 18.5 and 24.9, which is considered the healthy weight range.4 Reducing more than 10 percent of your body weight can eliminate some fat from the liver and even bring down the symptoms of NASH. Also, it is not safe or healthy to lose more than 1 kg per week.5
2. Eat A Balanced Diet
One of the best ways to maintain your weight and, in turn, manage the symptoms of NAFLD is eating a healthy, balanced diet. Have 3 to 4 regular meals with healthy snacks, enough water (about 8–10 glasses every day), adequate servings of vegetables and fruits, and avoid fatty, fried foods and products high in unhealthy fats. This type of a healthy diet will also help you keep a check on blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
3. Exercise Regularly
Any kind of physical activity and exercise is good to treat the symptoms of NAFLD and manage a fatty liver. However, we’d recommend moderate-intensity exercises like cycling and walking for at least 150 minutes every day.6 Remember, if you are new to an exercise routine, always start slow and perform the exercises with the help of a personal trainer.
4. Quit Smoking And Drinking
Quitting unhealthy habits like smoking and drinking can also reduce the risk of NAFLD. Smoking has negative effects even on the organs that are not directly in contact with the smoke, like the liver. Heavy smoking inflame certain cell proteins, which may lead to liver cell injury.7 Although alcohol is not a root cause of NAFLD, drinking may worsen the condition. Just to be safe, quit alcohol.
Apart from these lifestyle changes, certain herbal treatments have been in use for decades to treat diseases related to the liver.
Herbal Treatments For NAFLD
1. Goji Berries
The goji berry, also known as wolfberry, has been used in Chinese medicine to treat diseases of both the liver and eyes. The berries contain polysaccharides (a carbohydrate) and strong antioxidant properties that reduce oxidative stress and fight free radicals that damage cells.8
Multiple studies have reported that garlic and its compounds may be able to inhibit the growth and development of chemically induced cancer cells in the liver. It is also believed that garlic can protect liver cells from harmful toxins.9 So, add whole garlics to your dishes to enhance the flavor and protect your liver health.
3. Green Tea
Green tea contains polyphenolic catechins that are anti-inflammatory in nature. These are good for treating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease because of their antioxidant and lipid- or cholesterol-lowering properties.10 Drink 2 to 3 cups of green tea (100 to 750 mg per day of standardized green tea extract) every day to rid the liver of toxins.11
Resveratrol is a plant polyphenol that is found abundantly in red grapes and in moderate levels in blackberries, mulberries, and blueberries.12 Found to be effective in treating liver diseases and improving glucose metabolism, resveratrol reduces the risk of diabetes.13 While these berries and fruits are the best options, resveratrol supplements are also available. Use them only under the supervision of a doctor.
5. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle has been used as a herbal remedy for years to treat diseases, particularly of the liver, kidney, and gallbladder. Silymarin – an active ingredient in milk thistle – has antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties, both of which are useful to reduce or prevent liver damage that may cause liver diseases.14 Milk thistle is available in the form of capsules and liquid extracts. Before using these supplements, make sure to consult a doctor.
To protect your liver health and prevent it from diseases, it is always better to practice mindful eating and exercise regularly. Good lifestyle choices can also boost overall health. In addition, routine blood tests can help diagnose a fatty liver in its initial stages.
|↑1, ↑5||Liver – fatty liver disease. BetterHealth Channel.|
|↑2, ↑3, ↑6||Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). National Health Services (NHS) Choices.|
|↑4||Normal weight ranges: Body mass index (BMI). American Cancer Society.|
|↑7||El-Zayadi, Abdel-Rahman. “Heavy smoking and liver.” World journal of gastroenterology: WJG 12, no. 38 (2006): 6098.|
|↑8||Xiao, Jia, Kwok Fai So, Emily C. Liong, and George L. Tipoe. “Recent advances in the herbal treatment of non-alcoholic Fatty liver disease.” Journal of traditional and complementary medicine 3, no. 2 (2013): 88-94.|
|↑9||Bayan, Leyla, Peir Hossain Koulivand, and Ali Gorji. “Garlic: a review of potential therapeutic effects.” Avicenna journal of phytomedicine 4, no. 1 (2014): 1.|
|↑10||Masterjohn, Christopher, and Richard S. Bruno. “Therapeutic potential of green tea in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.” Nutrition reviews 70, no. 1 (2012): 41-56.|
|↑11||Green tea. University of Maryland Medical Center.|
|↑12||Resveratrol. LiverTox, National Institutes of Health.|
|↑13||Faghihzadeh, Forouzan, Azita Hekmatdoost, and Payman Adibi. “Resveratrol and liver: A systematic review.” Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences 20, no. 8 (2015): 797.|
|↑14||Cacciapuoti, Fulvio, Anna Scognamiglio, Rossella Palumbo, Raffaele Forte, and Federico Cacciapuoti. “Silymarin in non alcoholic fatty liver disease.” World journal of hepatology 5, no. 3 (2013): 109.|