Do You Have Fatty Liver Disease?

Image: Thomas Kelley March is a great month to cleanse... partly because it's also Liver Health Month!

Your liver is a key player in your overall health - it's the main organ in your body associated with detoxification (and we know how important it is to detox). Unfortunately, I'm seeing more and more patients who suffer from liver conditions, such as fatty liver disease.

What is Fatty Liver Disease?

Fatty liver disease, also known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), is a condition that most people have never heard of, yet up to 25 percent of us are living with it!

NAFLD is a medical condition whereby excess fat accumulates in the liver and is a major risk factor for diabetes, heart attacks and even cancer.

NAFLD is commonly diagnosed by specific liver function blood tests or an ultrasound. It can cause a whole cascade of issues. It causes inflammation in the body, which can create insulin resistance and pre-diabetes, which in turn causes the body to deposit fat not just in your liver, but also all around the organs and in the belly.

Most people with NAFLD have few or no symptoms but some people may complain of fatigue, malaise and dull right-upper-quadrant abdominal discomfort.


What Causes NAFLD? SUGAR!

Given the name, you probably think NAFLD is caused by excess fat in the diet, but this isn't always the case! Fatty liver disease is mostly caused by all the sugar and starch/flour in our diet.

Take foie gras, for example.

Foie gras is a delicacy made from duck or goose liver. In order to make foie gras, ducks or geese are force-fed sugar in the form of corn and starch. This turns their livers into fat-production factories (a process known as lipogenesis) which is the body’s normal response to sugar.

This is why sugar, especially the kind of sugar in high fructose corn syrup (or fructose-glucose in Canada)  is one of the biggest causes of fatty liver disease. And unfortunately, it's found in SO MANY of our processed foods.

Below I've outlined some of whole-foods changes you can make to your diet and some special supplementation you can take on to combat NAFLD, and optimize your liver health.


Twelve Strategies to Fix Fatty Liver Disease

The primary goal in most cases of fatty liver disease is improving insulin sensitivity through diet and supplementation.


1. Eliminate processed sugar (and the food it's in)

The elimination of high-glycemic-index foods is a critical step in both the prevention and the treatment of NAFLD.  One study found that 80% of NAFLD patients drank enough soft drinks and juices to add the equivalent of 12 tsp of sugar or more to their diet.


2. Watch for high fructose corn syrup

Read labels – especially in salad dressings, sauces, ketchup or tomato sauce.


3. Reduce or eliminate starch

Get rid of the white, refined and processed flour.  Even whole grain flours can be a problem for some.


4. Include good fats in the diet

Olive oil, avocados, coconut oil and fish oil can have a huge, beneficial impact on overall health - and the health of your liver.


5. Increase sulfur and fibre in your diet

Foods that are rich in sulfur and fibre help protect the liver from damage and improve liver function. High sulfur foods include garlic, legumes, and onions.

Good sources of soluble fibre include pears, oat bran, apples and vegetables in the brassica family especially broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage; as well as artichokes, beets and dandelion.


6. Get rid (or cut down on) harmful substances

Minimize or eliminate substances that increase stress on the liver such as excess coffee and alcohol.


7. Supplement with milk thistle

Silymarin, the powerful extract found in milk thistle has the most impressive research on protecting the liver from damage and enhancing detoxification, especially increasing the liver’s content of glutathione – a key compound in liver function that is low in people with NAFLD.


8. Try NAC

N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) is another molecule that supports and replenishes the natural antioxidant glutathione, sparing liver cells from the effects of oxidant and free radical damage.


9. More of the SAMe

S-Adenosylmethionine (SAMe) also replenishes glutathione levels and restores liver cell protection to normal.  Antioxidants such as SAMe, NAC and ALA help to improve levels of liver enzymes and decrease inflammation.


10. Employ some lipotropic agents

Betaine, choline, methionine, vitamin B6, folic acid, and vitamin B12 are important lipotropic agents, compounds that promote the flow of fat and bile to and from the liver.  They produce a “decongesting” effect on the liver and promote improved liver function and fat metabolism.  Lipotropic formulas appear to increase the levels of two important liver substances: SAM-e and glutathione.


11. Watch your magnesium level

Magnesium levels have been shown to be significantly lower in those with NAFLD.  Suboptimal magnesium status may contribute to the insulin resistance that plays a role in the development of NAFLD.


12. Supplement your bile acids

Bile Acids from ox bile are effective in promoting the flow of bile and fat to and from the liver and relieving liver congestion.