What’s the latest information on fatty liver disease?
“Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a condition where too much fat is accumulated in the liver, largely driven by poor lifestyle choices, and rates are rising. NAFLD – also known as ‘fatty liver’ – is estimated to affect one in three adults in the UK, and rates are also on the rise among younger British women. Fatty liver on its own isn’t known to be harmful, but if left untreated it can lead to serious liver damage, including cirrhosis (permanent scarring and damage to the liver) if it gets worse. Essentially it occurs because fat gets deposited in the liver in the same way as fat gets deposited elsewhere in the body when our diets are unhealthy or we get too little exercise. Alcohol remains a big cause of liver disease and if people are overweight and drinking too much, then the problem can be compounded.” – Dr Adam Staten, clinical director at One Day Tests
What lifestyle habits take their toll on the liver?
“There are several factors strongly linked to poor liver health. These include smoking, being sedentary (or physically inactive), a poor-quality diet, having excess body weight, poor quality sleep and high stress levels. In one study, researchers found a ‘healthy lifestyle score’, which combines all these factors, was associated with an increased risk of NAFLD. The same study suggested that a lifestyle of non-smoking, a healthy BMI, physical activity, a nutrient-dense diet, good sleep and reduced stress may provide a lower risk for NAFLD. A separate study highlighted that a lack of exercise, high red meat intake, low carbohydrate intake and poor blood sugar balance are also strong predictors of poor liver health.” – Kim Plaza, technical advisor at Bio-Kult
So, are some of us more likely to be affected?
“Some characteristics have been observed in people with poor liver health – such as low muscle mass and strength, poor blood sugar balance, and having an apple body shape as opposed to a pear, which suggests increased levels of visceral fat.” – Kim
“Fatty liver can be part of a wider metabolic syndrome, which also includes high blood pressure, high cholesterol and pre-diabetes. If you have any of these conditions, you could be at an increased risk of fatty liver.” – Adam
What about alcohol?
“The name ‘non-alcoholic’ fatty liver disease suggests someone who is completely abstaining from alcohol, but this isn’t entirely accurate. It essentially refers to someone who doesn’t have a chronic alcohol problem but may be consuming more than the recommended 14 units of alcohol per week. This is often in conjunction with other lifestyle choices such as a lack of exercise and a high toxin exposure, which studies show is taking its toll.” – Richa Puri, specialist fertility nutritional therapist
“Your liver processes everything – it’s a huge organ that’s working all the time to break down toxins and keep everything in balance. There is plenty of evidence to suggest alcohol is harmful to the liver. It is one of only two foods that’s considered a carcinogen (the other is processed red meat) and all alcohol presents a challenge to the body. The evidence suggests having non-drinking days is crucial to help the liver repair after being exposed to alcohol. Try to limit drinking to a maximum of three nights per week, with no more than one or two units per drinking day.” – Dr Federica Amati, medical scientist, nutritionist & chief scientific advisor for The Liver Clinic
Do hormones play a part?
“As a nutritional therapist specialising in women’s health, I’ve seen fatty liver becoming more prevalent, especially in women with PCOS, as well as in women who are overweight. However, at this stage, it tends to be at an early stage where lots can be done to reverse the damage. PCOS is one of the most common hormonal disorders affecting women of reproductive age. It’s associated with insulin resistance, obesity and hormonal imbalances, all of which can contribute to fatty liver disease. At the same time, some studies suggest a link between the use of certain contraceptive pills and an increased risk of developing fatty liver, while some women can develop fatty liver disease during pregnancy, driven by hormones and metabolic factors. Plus, it’s a two-way problem, as the liver is responsible for regulating our hormones, so damage to liver makes it less able to regulate hormones, leading to imbalances.” – Richa
What are the signs your liver isn’t working as well as it should?
“The tricky thing with the liver is that it’s a very resilient organ and it will keep functioning despite being badly damaged. This may mean you have no or very few symptoms until liver disease is advanced. Having said that, there are a few things to look out for, including right-sided abdominal discomfort, itching, yellowing of the skin or eyes, abdominal swelling, dark urine or pale stools. All of these can be a sign of liver disease and should be checked out by your GP.” – Adam
“The liver has a direct impact on skin inflammation, so often psoriasis and conditions like alopecia can be linked to the liver. The liver is also responsible for maintaining a healthy metabolism, so signs of poor blood sugar control can also be linked to the liver.” – Federica
What are the long-term consequences if it’s left untreated?
“Fatty liver disease can cause liver cirrhosis and cancer if left untreated, as well as negatively impacting all metabolic functions in the body. However, it is a reversible condition if caught early enough, so the key is to identify and act on fatty liver deposits before it becomes more serious. It’s hard to spot the early signs, which is why the non-invasive FibroScan is a game-changer. It’s like an ultrasound and takes ten minutes – it tests the elasticity of the liver.” – Federica
How can your diet support your liver?
“A healthy diet is essential for supporting liver health. Consuming a variety of nutrient-rich foods can provide the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and other compounds that promote proper liver function. Cruciferous and green leafy vegetables should feature daily in your diet – they contain compounds that support the liver’s detoxification processes. Also eat more garlic, which activates liver enzymes that aid in detoxification; walnuts, which reduce inflammation; turmeric, which has potent antioxidant effects for liver health; whole grains like brown rice and quinoa to support stable blood sugars; beetroot, which contain betaine that may reduce inflammation and support liver function; as well as olive oil, which contains healthy fats and antioxidants that have been associated with improved liver health.” – Richa
What about supplements?
“Don’t be lured by supplements claiming to cure your liver. Supplements should be used very cautiously especially when it comes to liver health. The detoxification process of the liver needs to be managed carefully as it can become overwhelmed. That said, there are several supplements that have been studied. Milk thistle contains an active compound called silymarin, which has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Some studies suggest milk thistle may help protect liver cells and support liver function, especially in individuals with certain liver conditions. N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) is also great – it’s a precursor to glutathione, an important antioxidant that plays a role in detoxification. Some research suggests NAC may help protect the liver from damage caused by toxins. A good-quality omega-3 oil could also be worth taking – studies suggest omega-3 may help reduce inflammation in the liver.” – Richa
Here, the experts share their top tips for optimal liver health…
Cut Back On Alcohol
“There has been denial about the harms of alcohol – even within the medical community – for some years now. Drink no more than 14 units spread across the week, avoid bingeing and have at least two alcohol-free days each week. The more the topic is researched, the lower the recommended safe limit for alcohol seems to be.” – Adam
Eat A Mediterranean Diet
“A balanced diet is crucial for liver health. Focus on whole foods, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains and healthy fats. Limit your intake of sugary foods and refined carbohydrates.” – Richa
Manage Your Weight
“If you are overweight, sensible weight loss through a combination of diet and exercise will significantly improve fatty liver disease. However, rapid weight loss should be avoided, as it can exacerbate liver inflammation and overburden the liver with toxins.” – Richa
“Regular exercise, such as brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or cycling, can help improve insulin sensitivity and promote weight loss. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per week.” – Richa
Reduce Your Toxic Load
“Switch to organic food where possible, filter your tap water and swap to natural cosmetics, toiletries and cleaning products. Also consider eliminating food intolerances to reduce your toxic load. Activities that induce sweating may be particularly helpful, such as having regular saunas or deep tissue massages.” – Kim
Look After Your Gut
“Good gut health is paramount for supporting liver health. An imbalance in gut bacteria may increase levels of toxins migrating into the blood stream, resulting in inflammation. Having a balanced gut flora will also maintain regular bowel movements to remove toxins from the body.” – Kim
DISCLAIMER: Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programme.