Understanding Fatty Liver Disease
Fatty liver disease causes serious health issues such as steatosis and cirrhosis. Discover how to reverse fatty liver issues and more with this helpful guide.
Fatty liver disease is becoming more and more of an issue, with 63% of UK adults obese and overweight and 1 in 3 having early stages of non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
So, to help you understand the signs, risks and how to reverse fatty liver problems, we have comprised an insightful and informative blog covering the main issues with advice and evidence-backed research.
From adopting the right fatty liver diet plan to NAFLD symptoms and steatosis, explore our ultimate fatty liver disease guide and take positive steps towards a healthier you.
What is fatty liver disease?
Fatty liver disease is defined when an excess of fat in the liver exceeds 5-15% of the liver’s total weight. It's normal for the liver to contain small amounts of fat but exceeding this percentage will diagnose someone in medical terms as having a fatty liver.
There are two forms of fatty liver disease:
· Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
· Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD)
Signs of fatty liver disease
Due to the liver having over 500 functions, it’s unsurprising that numerous physical and mental signs can indicate fatty liver disease.
According to various medical publications, NAFLD symptoms of fatty liver disease can include any of the following signs:
· Itching/pruritus with rashes and eczema
· Spider-like blood vessels and veins
· Fluid build-up and swelling of the legs (oedema) and (abdomen)
· Mental difficulties, confusion and depression
· Constipation and diarrhoea
· Headaches and migraines
· Pain or heaviness in the right rib cage
· Poor digestion, bloating or sensitivity to food
· Regular feelings of anger and frustration
· Thyroid issues (70% of thyroid conversion happens in the liver)
· Broken sleep
· Floating stools
· Seasonal allergies
· Excessive sensitivity to caffeine
· Bacterial, fungal or parasite growth
· Morning tiredness (low energy could suggest your liver isn't filtering toxins effectively overnight)
· Struggling to lose weight/fat
· Feeling unwell after meals
· Struggling to think and focus
· Dark circles beneath the eyes where the skin is thinner than in other areas
However, fatty liver disease can also reveal no symptoms until the condition has progressed more severely.
Depending on whether someone is suffering from NAFLD or AFLD, the causes of fatty liver disease can include:
· An excessive build-up of fat in the liver
· Excessive consumption of alcohol can cause a fat overload in the liver
· Being overweight or obese
· High blood sugar (Prediabetes or type 2 diabetes)
· High-fat levels in the blood (Triglycerides)
A diet high in sugary sweets, starchy foods and simple carbohydrates will be converted into fat by the liver and stored in our body as fat deposits. Eating too much protein and carbohydrates can be converted into triglycerides stored in fat cells and deposited by the liver.
Is fatty liver disease bad?
Having fatty liver disease will come with health risks that we can measure across four stages:
1. Firstly, an initial build-up of excess fat in the liver comes with no other issues.
2. Secondly, steatohepatitis can develop from fat build-up that causes inflammation in the liver.
3. Thirdly, persistent inflammation in the liver can cause fibrosis with scarring that will then impair the function of the liver.
4. Finally, the scarring of the liver has spread to cause cirrhosis, the most severe stage that's also irreversible.
Reaching the fourth stage of cirrhosis can cause numerous other health issues, such as fluid build-up in the abdomen called “ascites” and swelling in the veins of the oesophagus that can rupture and bleed. Psychological impacts can cause hepatic encephalopathy, where the victim suffers from confusion, drowsiness and slurred speech.
Fatal issues to stem from cirrhosis include liver cancer and end-stage liver failure, with the liver ceasing to function. Excessive fat levels in the liver are also associated with diabetes, high blood pressure and kidney disease.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) vs Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD)
Now we understand the risk of fatty liver disease, let’s look at what defines NAFLD from AFLD:
Cases of NAFLD are increasing across the world, particularly in Western countries. For example, in the USA, NAFLD is the most common form of chronic liver disease affecting close to 25-30% of the population.
· Non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFL) is 5% or more hepatic steatosis without fibrosis or hepatocellular injury.
· Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), again 5% or more hepatic steatosis but with hepatocellular injury and inflammation (with or without fibrosis).
With AFLD, the root cause is the overconsumption of alcohol, resulting in an excessive build-up of fat with potential damage to the liver. This alcoholic fat build-up in the liver is the first stage of AFLD and can lead to more severe health issues in the future.
NAFLD or AFLD: Which one is worse?
Both NAFLD and AFLD are serious health issues worldwide. The degeneration of liver cells occurs to a greater degree with NAFLD over AFLD. On the other hand, inflammatory cell infiltration is more prevalent in AFLD.
Plus, according to the National Institute of Health, venous or perivenular fibrosis and lymphocytic phlebitis are again more problematic with AFLD than NAFLD. Further medical journals claim that up to 30% of people with NAFLD will develop NASH and at least 30% of people with NASH go on to develop cirrhosis.
Cirrhosis is a critical health issue where liver cells become progressively replaced by scar tissue, deteriorating liver function beyond repair. Developing NAFLD will also increase your chances of developing cardiovascular disease that can cause fatal heart attacks and heart failure.
So, to know which one is worse specifically is difficult to answer as both contain numerous health issues that can become critical. Fatty liver infiltration of cells may be worse with AFLD, but NAFLD seems to lead more steadily to steatosis and cirrhosis.
The best scenario? Avoid both.
How to reverse fatty liver disease
To reverse or avoid fatty liver disease altogether relies heavily on adopting the right lifestyle, diet and supplements. Exercising regularly will help you lose fat which can result in a fatty liver. However, probably the most crucial aspect will be what you eat and drink.
Diet changes to help reverse fatty liver disease
As the old saying goes, “You are what you eat”. In order to ensure our liver stays healthy and reverses fatty liver disease, we must avoid harmful foods and excessive alcohol consumption.
So, here are a few foods you should include and remove from your fatty liver diet plan:
Foods to include in your fatty liver diet plan:
· Green vegetables
· Coffee (lowers abnormal liver enzymes)
· Beans and soy
· Sunflower seeds
Foods to avoid in your fatty liver diet plan
· Added sugar
· Fried foods
· Added salt
· White bread, rice and pasta
· Red meat