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5 Causes of Fatty Liver and What to Do About It

If you are frustrated with the reality that your body can gain weight, then you might be even more surprised that your organs can gain weight too. It becomes a real health problem when it's your liver that begins to pack on extra pounds. While body fat on your arms and legs is definitely unwanted, the fat that collects in your liver-can be deadly. The causes of fatty liver are easy to identify, and reversing fatty liver is definitely achievable.

5 Causes of Fatty Liver and What to Do About It

What Exactly is Fatty Liver?

Fatty liver occurs when fat released from your fat storage cells-called adipocytes, or fat cells-begins to mobilize and circulate around the bloodstream, usually as a result of insulin resistance, where your cells respond improperly to the hormone insulin. The liver will take up this extra circulating fat, and store it in order to remove it from the bloodstream. These fatty deposits will collect within and around liver cells, causing fatty liver.

When fat begins to build up inside your liver, your mitochondria-the little powerhouses that use oxygen to create energy-will get overloaded by extra fat, and the result is not pretty. Free oxygen radical production increases-which means cell damage, inflammation, and scarring of the liver cells.

Your doctor can run a simple blood test to determine if you have fatty liver or not-by measuring liver enzymes. When the liver is injured, these enzymes get spilled into the bloodstream. The enzymes that your doctor will use to detect if you have fatty liver include AST and ALT-if they are high, then it is likely that your liver is not doing well. Sometimes your physician might need to do an ultrasound or a tissue biopsy to determine the degree of damage to your liver.

The technical term for fatty liver is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and is caused by the accumulation of fat in the liver in people who drink little or no alcohol.

How Many People Have Fatty Liver?

Around 20% of the US population suffers from non-alcoholic fatty liver and this number is going up. Children can even develop fatty liver-and lots of fat storage right around the midsection or belly area is a clue this may be happening to your child's liver.

This type of fatty liver is similar to the fatty liver that can develop with excess alcohol intake. Excessive alcohol intake can destroy and inflame liver tissue in a similar way as non-alcoholic fatty liver-though the non-alcoholic form of fatty liver is the most common cause of chronic liver disease in the developed world.

Is Fatty Liver Genetic?

Risk factors-which make you more likely to develop fatty liver - include obesity and insulin resistance, or pre-diabetes. While there may be a genetic component related to the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver, fatty liver is still completely reversible, especially if you treat it in the early stages.

Luckily, in most cases fatty liver is completely reversible with weight loss and dietary changes, making it a lifestyle disease that is completely reversible-as long as it hasn't been happening for so long that your liver becomes scarred.

What Causes Fatty Liver?

First and foremost, researches point to insulin resistance as the most important factor in developing fatty liver. Insulin resistance causes fatty liver because insulin's normal signaling is disrupted, and fat will mobilize and deposit in all the wrong places, namely-your liver.

Fatty liver is associated with a higher intake of saturated and trans-fats in the diet, as well as excess intake of carbohydrates and simple sugars (like fructose and sucrose). Too many carbohydrates and simple sugars is also one of the reasons people develop insulin resistance, as well.

One study found that patients who had fatty liver consumed twice as much high fructose corn syrup as people without fatty liver. And children who have fatty liver and consume lots of high fructose corn syrup typically have a poor metabolic profile.

How to Reverse Fatty Liver

1. You can reverse fatty liver by adopting a diet that includes lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins like greek yogurt, chicken, turkey, shrimp, lean beef, lean pork, and whole grains like oats, rye, whole wheat pasta, and wild rice. All of these healthy categories of foods help to reverse fatty liver.

2. If you want to reverse fatty liver, it's also a must that you stop drinking sugary-sodas or sugar-sweetened beverages, avoid alcohol, and reduce the amount of processed foods in your diet. Reducing your intake of white flour, white pasta, white rice, and dessert items like cookies, cakes, doughnuts, and pies will also help you avoid developing insulin resistance, which is the primary cause of fatty liver.

3. Exercise is not only good for your mood, your heart, your blood vessels, and your overall health, it's good for reversing fatty liver too. Exercising 3 times per week for 45 minutes to an hour can reduce the amount of fat in your liver in just 8 weeks.

4. Losing just 7% of your body weight - which if you weigh 200 pounds would be around 14 pounds-can begin to reverse your fatty liver.

5. Consuming foods that are rich in lecithin (also referred to as phosphatidylcholine, or just choline, for short) can help protect your liver from further damage from fatty deposits in the liver. Foods that are rich in lecithin include egg yolks, and plant foods like cruciferous vegetables-such as broccoli and Brussel sprouts-as well as soybeans, kidney beans, and sunflower seeds. Lecithin helps to ensure fat is stored in the proper places inside liver cells.

Sydney Lappe's Photo
Written By Sydney Lappe, MS, RDN. Published on June 08, 2017. Updated on August 18, 2017.


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