Liver disease isn’t only an issue for people who drink too much alcohol. In fact, the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases states that up to 20 percent of Americans have nonalchoholic fatty liver disease, known as NAFLD. It has become the most common liver disease in North America.
If you are overweight, obese, or have metabolic syndrome, rates are much higher than that.
What Is Nonalchoholic Fatty Liver Disease?
Nonalchoholic fatty liver disease is a catch-all term for several conditions caused by accumulations of fat in liver cells. It is sometimes called steatohepatitis. Deposits of fat in the liver cause the liver to become inflamed. If you are overweight, have metabolic syndrome symtoms such as insulin resistance and elevated triglicerides, and are middle-aged, your risk is highest.
Just metabolic syndrome alone puts you at thirty times the risk for NAFLD.
Even Children Now Get NAFLD
It used to be extremely rare for children to get nonalchoholic fatty liver disease, but as obesity rates have risen in children, so has the percentage of cases. In 2006, a study of people under age 20 in one California town found rates of 1 in 20 of NAFLD.
What Are The Consequences of Liver Disease?
NAFLD can cause scarring of the liver that increases over time. Individuals with NAFLD can develop cirrhosis of the liver, just as alcoholics can, even if they don’t drink at all. This can result in liver failure and death.
The Causes of Fatty Liver Disease
We know that there is a strong association with overweight, obesity and metabolic syndrome, but there is reason to believe there are even more specific causes. Researchers believe that a high-fructose diet is a significant factor for causing a buildup of fat in the liver. When fructose is fed to laboratory rats, their liver cells display high levels of triglycerides and the rats soon develop fatty liver.
In other words, both table sugar, which is 50% fructose, and HFCS or high fructose corn syrup (which is entirely fructose) put you at more risk of fatty liver, the more you consume.
Researchers have also learned that, compared to people with other forms of liver disease, people diagnosed with NAFLD tend to have a history of consuming large amounts of fructose, especially from soft drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup.
“People with NAFLD consume three times more fructose-rich soft drinks than the average American.”
– Dr. Richard J. Johnson
It’s also clear that NAFLD patients who consume the most fructose display the worst degree of liver damage.
Testing Liver Health
A liver enzyme test can help diagnose liver damage, but ideally you want to reduce sugar and HFCS intake as soon as possible.
Treatment of NAFLD
Of course, the first step is to eliminate intake of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Reading every food label becomes essential, not just advisable. Weight loss is a priority. It is important to control blood sugar spikes and reduce insulin resistance, and sometimes prescription medications are used for those purposes.
There is some possibility that fasting can quickly and significantly reduce fat in the liver, and one doctor in Ontario, Canada specializes in this type of program to help people with diabetes type II, or pre-diabetes. However, fasting for multiple weeks is hard on the body and difficult for most people.
The herb silymarin, or milk thistle, may also be helpful since it is a powerful antioxidant and displays liver-protecting properties. While it does have some regenerative properties for liver cells, scarring of the liver isn’t something you want to have to deal with.
Please call me today if you live in Hawaii and are overweight or obese, so that we can work together to reduce your risk of NAFLD. Your inital appointment is free, to give you an opportunity to understand how and why medical weight loss works.