Did you know the food you eat is either making you more healthy or less healthy? Similarly, the food we eat either moves us closer to or further away from widespread inflammation in the body.
Living with chronic inflammation can cause a ripple effect, or more appropriately, a tsunami of adverse health outcomes.
Your body’s inflammatory response can eventually start wreaking havoc on healthy cells, tissues, and organs. Over time, this can lead to damaged DNA, tissue death, and internal scarring. All of these are linked to the development of several diseases, including cancer. (1)
When I experienced this “aha” moment in 2009, I spent all of that year studying nutrition. It’s no surprise that my first book, published in 2010, was about antioxidants, the panacea for inflammation. Eight books later, after personally experiencing the life-changing effects of proper nutrition, I can’t stop talking about the healing power of food — especially when it comes to healing the gut, metabolism, or liver.
I’m Relatively Healthy; Can I Still Have a Fatty Liver?
Back in 2009, while listening to “Single Ladies” by Beyonce in between patients, I was looking over the lab results of a couple of patients in their late twenties and was blown away by what I saw. They had all the indicators of early fatty liver disease and I remember thinking: “This can’t be! This person is only 27 years old.” And it was in that moment, looking over those shocking lab results that changed a young person’s health trajectory forever, that I realized how critical food choices are for all of us.
What used to be a rare disease that mostly affected alcoholics has become the most widespread liver disease in the United States that now affects 80 to 100 million Americans. If that’s not shocking enough, not only do some studies suggest post-menopausal women are more likely to be affected than men, but doctors often miss early signs and symptoms. This is alarming for many reasons, especially considering the “downstream” effects a sluggish liver has on hormones, digestion, detoxification, and overall health.
Fortunately, there are some simple ways to identify potential symptoms, and the good news is it’s possible to stop Fatty Liver in its tracks and with an early-enough diagnosis, reverse it for good. But first, we need to understand what Fatty Liver Disease really is.
What Is Fatty Liver Disease?
Fatty liver occurs when too much fat gets stored in the liver and it cannot function properly. How does this happen?
Your liver is a powerhouse organ and responsible for a host of critical functions in your body, such as controlling your immune system, clotting your blood, producing bile and glycogen, detoxifying medications, and filtering toxins out of your body. Your liver also plays a key role in controlling the supply of energy in your body by helping to manage blood glucose.
The sugar (glucose) in your blood is carried into cells by insulin, to be burned for energy. But when glucose can’t easily enter the cells (due to insulin resistance) or when you simply eat more than you need, that extra energy gets turned into fat in the form of triglycerides, which are stored in the cells of your liver. That’s why insulin is known as the fat-storage hormone — it sends the extra glucose to the liver, which eventually turns that glucose into fat in the form of triglycerides.
The same process occurs in people who drink too much alcohol. What starts out as too much fat deposited in the liver can progress to inflammation, liver cell injury, and eventually scarring.
5 Surprising Signs You Have Fatty Liver Disease
In its early stages, symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease can be non-existent or vague, such as fatigue, mild abdominal discomfort or swelling, and possibly irritable bowel syndrome symptoms.
But there are a few well-recognized indicators of possible fatty liver. If any of the following are true for you, it may be time to take a closer look and show your liver some extra TLC:
- Obesity. Research shows that, above all, obesity is a clear risk factor. (2) Around 70% of obese people have fatty liver disease, while only 10-15% of people with a healthy body mass index do.
- High (fasting) blood triglycerides (anything over 150 milligrams per deciliter)
- High or high-normal (fasting) blood glucose (anything over 90mg/dl)
- Pre-diabetes (metabolic syndrome)
- Type 2 diabetes
What do all of these conditions have in common? They’re all directly impacted by nutrition.
Learn more about how to reverse insulin resistance here!
What You Also May Not Know
Fatty liver can also affect lean women. Because people with a healthy BMI can also be affected, this makes it easy to miss. If you’re a normal weight but you don’t exercise much, or have stubborn belly fat, you are at risk, especially if your triglycerides are high and your HDL-cholesterol is low. Although 20-30 percent of Americans are thought to have fatty liver, this number rises to 80-90 percent among people with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome (prediabetes).
Since estrogen naturally protects the liver and supports insulin sensitivity, menopause can be another surprising risk factor for Fatty Liver Disease. Weight gain and lower energy levels that cause you to move less will increase the chances of depositing more fat in your liver. Not surprisingly, more postmenopausal women than premenopausal women have been found to have fatty liver disease.
10 Ways to Love Your Liver Back to Life
You want the good news now? Whether you have Fatty Liver Disease or suspect you may be at risk, there are easy, actionable steps you can take — right now, in fact — to ward off or even reverse this pesky disease that affects one in three adults and one in 10 children in the United States. (3)
#1 – Eat a plant-focused diet and increase your water intake.
With so much diet and nutrition information out there, it can feel overwhelming trying to understand which foods are “good” and which are “bad.” So to make it easier on yourself, focus on eating more plants (think, natural) and less refined carbohydrates such as white bread, white rice and pasta (even if it’s gluten free), and sugar (not natural). Get more fiber in your diet by consuming dark, leafy greens and vegetables, and up your healthy fats with foods like nuts, seeds, and fish. Hydration is essential, so drink plenty of water. Lastly, supplement with a Lifelong Vitality pack, full of essential nutrients, metabolism benefits, and powerful antioxidants, to fill in any nutrient gaps you may not be getting from plant food sources.
#2 – Take a Vitamin B Complex.
Key to opening up detoxification pathways, a good vitamin B complex is integral to supporting Phase 1 liver detoxification. My Activated B Complete contains forms of vitamin B that are ready to be used in your cells (this means they are methylated, also known as activated) so your body with its innate ability to heal can get right to work!
#3 – Exercise regularly.
A sedentary lifestyle sharply increases your risk of Fatty Liver Disease. Consistent exercise, 20-30 minutes a day several days a week, not only reduces your risk, but burns triglycerides for fuel and reduces liver fat. Starting a new exercise routine can be overwhelming, but with these simple tricks you can burn more calories, boost healthy metabolism, and build strength fast!
#4 – Avoid exposure to toxins.
While some environmental toxins can’t be fully avoided, it’s important to limit your exposure when and where possible. Stick with cleaning and beauty products with nontoxic ingredients and avoid aerosol products, insecticides, harsh chemicals, and additives. When you do use aerosols, make sure the room is ventilated, and wear a mask. Avoid smoking and exposure to smokers.
#5 – Limit or avoid alcohol consumption.
Alcoholic beverages can cause a myriad of serious health issues. They can damage or destroy liver cells and scar your liver. Talk to your doctor about what amount of alcohol is right for you. You may be advised to drink alcohol only in moderation or to quit completely.
#6 – Eat liver-cleansing foods.
There are many liver-nourishing foods. Dandelion greens contain many compounds that aid in the cleansing of the liver. Avocados have been shown to protect the liver against toxic overload, and turmeric protects the liver against toxins. In fact, turmeric is one of the most powerful liver cleansers out there. The powerful synergy of tumerones and curcuminoids are amazing at facilitating phase 1 detoxification and reducing the inflammatory response in the body. My Top 10 Liver Cleansing Superfoods guide has everything you need to know about adding more liver-loving foods into your diet. Click here to download it now!
#7 – Take a 30-minute walk after dinner.
Going for an after-dinner walk is richly beneficial when it comes to avoiding Fatty Liver Disease and insulin spikes. By doing this, you optimize your blood sugar levels by blunting your blood sugar spikes (eating protein with every meal also helps). Additionally, eating a small salad before a big meal helps to soak up starches and sugar and will slow the blood sugar increase. And eating lightly-cooked vegetables during a meal helps to slow digestion and soak up sugar as well.
#8 – Limit or avoid sugary drinks such as soda and sports drinks.
Drinks that are high on the glycemic index such as juice, sport drinks, soda and alcohol adversely affect your health but can especially contribute to Fatty Liver Disease and inflammation in the body. Swap out all sugary drinks for sparkling water with lime, teas, coffee (in moderation), matcha, and water.
#9 – Ease up on over-the-counter medications when possible.
Frequent use of over-the-counter medicines such as NSAIDs and acetaminophen can harm the liver. In fact, 38% of liver-failure cases and 37% of severe liver disease were associated with excessive use of acetaminophen, the active ingredient in Tylenol. Before any medication can be effective, it must be processed by the body, and this job falls largely on the liver. The more pharmaceuticals we ingest — through prescription drugs or over-the-counter remedies — the harder the liver must work.
#10 – Do a liver detox or reset twice a year.
Although it’s important to love your liver every single day, one of the best things you can do for your liver, metabolism, and insulin levels is give your body a gentle liver detox every fall and spring. My gentle yet effective 14-Day Detox removes liver, gut, and hormone-sabotaging foods from your diet and replaces them with nutrient-dense, anti-inflammatory foods so that your body receives the much-needed break to heal itself the way it was designed to do. Every time I do a detox in October or November, I don’t gain a pound during the holidays! It’s not magic — it’s science. Reestablishing healthy nutrition habits and giving your metabolism and blood sugar levels a much-needed reset goes a long way especially before the holiday season hustle and bustle and inadvertent stress that often accompanies it.
The Big Picture
At the end of the day, so much of our health hinges upon how we care for our bodies. While the food we eat, the amount of movement we get, stress management, restful sleep, and adequate sunlight are mission-critical to achieving optimal health, diet is the cornerstone.
If you are one of the millions suffering from Fatty Liver Disease or suspect you have symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease, rest assured, you have the power to reverse the damage and take back your health. It is my passion to equip you with the knowledge and tools to revitalize your mind and body from the inside out and as we enter the holiday season, may we be sure to pay attention to the signals our bodies give us and nourish them accordingly.
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3. Fatty Liver Disease: Risk Factors, Symptoms, Types & Prevention