Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is characterised as a build-up of fat in the liver, which is a highly pernicious condition as it is asymptomatic. However, research published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), says there are three warning signs to watch out for.
NAFLD is the term for a range of conditions that occur when there is a build-up of fat in the liver. It can be fiendishly difficult to diagnose because the condition tends to be asymptomatic, with symptoms only appearing once damage to the liver has become permanent. NAFLD is not driven by alcohol abuse. It is linked to poor health markers, such as obesity.
According to the research published in the BMJ, “Although NAFLD is mostly asymptomatic, patients may experience fatigue, decreased activity, and emotional health impairment.”
The asymptomatic nature of the condition means that it is typically diagnosed after a blood test called a liver function test, but these tests do not always detect NAFLD. It can also be detected by an ultrasound of the abdomen.
Experts are still trying to find out why some people accumulate fat in the liver, while others seem not to, and also why some fatty livers develop inflammation that can progress to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), a more serious version of NAFLD. NASH symptoms include:
- Abdominal swelling (ascites)
- Enlarged blood vessels just beneath the skin's surface
- Enlarged spleen
- Red palms
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice).
However, according to the Mayo Clinic, NAFLD and NASH are both linked to chronic disease markers, which include overweight or obesity, insulin resistance, high blood sugar (hyperglycemia), indicating prediabetes or type 2 diabetes, and high levels of fats, particularly triglycerides, in the blood.
The Mayo Clinic states, “In theory, vitamin E and other vitamins called antioxidants, could help protect the liver by reducing the damage caused by inflammation. But more research is needed.”
It added that there are other more efficient means of getting antioxidants in your diet, including coffee, oatmeal, green tea, fatty fish, a wide variety of dark berries, such as blueberries, raspberries, and cranberries, and plant-based foods in general.
A balanced diet, aided with antioxidant supplements, will keep the liver healthy. There are some foods and food groups that the liver finds difficult to process, and these are best avoided or reduced.
- Fatty foods. Fried foods, fast food, and takeout from many restaurants. Packaged snacks, chips, and nuts may also be surprisingly high in fats.
- Starchy foods. Bread, pasta, and cakes or baked goods.
- Sugar. Cut back on sugar and sugary foods such as cereals, baked goods, and sweets to help reduce the stress on the liver.
- Simple ways to reduce salt intake include eating out less, avoiding canned meats or vegetables, and reducing or avoiding salted deli meats and bacon.
- Alcohol. Anyone looking to give their liver a break should consider reducing their intake of alcohol or eliminating it from the diet completely.
Unfortunately, there are no specific treatments for NAFLD. Your GP will advise you to make certain lifestyle changes to prevent the condition from worsening. However, there is a lot of research into finding treatments, particularly for people with the more advanced stages of liver fibrosis and inflammation.
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