Obesity and Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
Obesity is one of the primary causes of a host of diseases. One such disease is Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, commonly known as NAFLD, which, according to estimates, affects people all around the globe. In the US alone, one in every four people suffers from NAFLD. A build-up of fat in the liver over time characterizes NAFLD, which is often symptomless and, therefore, very hard to detect. Type 2 diabetes is the strongest determinant of fatty liver disease. Also, a host of cardiovascular diseases can result from diabetes and fatty liver. In this article, we shall discuss Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease and shall look into ways to manage and reverse it.
Types of NAFLD
There are broadly two types of NAFLD: Simple fatty liver and Non-alcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH). Simple fatty liver means a build-up of fat in the liver, but it neither causes inflammation nor hurts the liver. On the other hand, Non -alcoholic Steatohepatitis, or NASH, is a more serious condition, though much rarer than Simple Fatty Liver. NASH occurs when the fattened cells become more inflamed. This inflammation then can damage liver cells and result in permanent scarring of the liver, also known as cirrhosis, which dramatically increases the risk of liver cancer. Unfortunately, not enough is known to exactly predict who will progress to a serious condition.
Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty Liver disease is mostly without symptoms. If there are symptoms, especially during an advanced stage, the following are often seen:
- Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen
- Feeling of fullness in the belly
- Fatigue and confusion
- Swollen abdomen or legs (edema)
- Loss of appetite
- Yellowish skin
Managing Fatty Liver Disease
Although NAFLD has become extremely common, there aren’t any targeted medications available for its treatment. In most cases, however, managing lifestyle factors can help to reduce chances of developing fatty liver
Obesity or being overweight directly cause a host of diseases, including NAFLD. In an article published in Harvard Health, it has been suggested that a 5% loss in weight can improve abnormal liver tests, and a weight loss between 7 -10% would decrease inflammation and injury to the liver. It may also reverse fibrosis that might have happened in the advanced stage of the disease. Gradual weight loss is also important, as rapid weight loss may worsen both inflammation and fibrosis. A regular exercise regime along with following a healthy diet may help in weight reduction.
It is important to have a healthy and balanced diet both to prevent the incursion of fatty liver disease as well as to reverse it. We need to keep the following points in mind while preparing a diet plan for people with fatty liver:
- Fats: It is very important to reduce fat intake. Often foods rich in fats have higher calories that increase the chance of developing obesity. Replacing saturated fats and trans fats with unsaturated fats, especially omega-3 fatty acids, may reduce the chance of heart diseases which are common among people with NAFLD.
- Foods with low glycemic index: The glycemic index is a system of assigning a number to carbohydrate-containing foods according to how much each food increases blood sugar. So, foods with a lower glycemic index shall increase blood sugar lesser in comparison to foods with a higher glycemic index, like bread, white rice, and potatoes. Foods such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are foods with a lower glycemic index that people with NAFLD should include in their daily diet.
- Avoid having sugary foods and beverages: Avoid foods and drinks rich in simple sugars, especially fructose
- Alcohol: Minimising, and if possible, completely avoiding alcohol is necessary for patients with NAFLD.
It is very important for people with NAFLD to do regular exercise. Exercise helps in Fat Oxidation in our body which helps in burning liver fats making the liver healthier. Doing regular exercise also helps in reducing insulin resistance and thereby increasing fat oxidation resulting in weight loss. Cardiovascular exercise, high-intensity exercise, vigorous exercise, and weight training are all helpful for the treatment of fatty liver disease.
It is important to remember that untreated fatty liver can develop inflammation, which in turn, can further lead to liver cirrhosis which is irreversible damage to the liver. The best news about the treatment of NAFLD, however, is that the liver is one of the only organs in our body that can completely rejuvenate itself if enough care is taken. The entire process of reversal might take time and we must show patience to continue with our diet and exercise regime to reverse Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)