Roughly one-third of the population suffers from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD. Many of its victims do not know they have it. NAFLD can go undetected for years and may eventually progress to inflammation and scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and, in some cases, full-blown liver failure.
Frequently Asked Questions
The non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a term used to describe the accumulation of fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol. It is very common and in many cases is linked to being obese or overweight. The non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is common and, for most people, causes no signs and symptoms and no complications. But in some people with the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, the fat that accumulates can cause inflammation and scarring in the liver. This more serious form of the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is sometimes called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
The non-alcoholic fatty liver disease usually causes no signs and symptoms. When it does, they may include:
- Pain in the upper right abdomen; and
- Weight loss
The non-alcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when your liver has trouble breaking down fats, causing fat to build up in your liver tissue.
Doctors aren't sure what causes non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The wide range of diseases and conditions linked to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is so diverse that it's difficult to pinpoint any one cause.
While poor dietary choices are often to blame, cutting-edge research suggests that hidden genetic factors may also play a role, as some people do not metabolise polyunsaturated fats properly, resulting in fatty deposits in the liver (Puri et al 2009). As mainstream medicine continues to struggle in the search for drugs to manage this widespread condition, emerging scientific evidence has shed light on effective natural interventions that may halt or even reverse its progress
In order to make a diagnosis of NAFLD, a physician considers both clinical data about the patient, and, when appropriate, data from a liver ultrasound and liver biopsy (for definitive diagnosis).
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can take several forms — from harmless to life-threatening. Forms include:
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver. It's not normal for fat to build up in your liver, but it won't necessarily hurt you. In its simplest form, the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can cause excess liver fat, but no complications. This condition is thought to be very common.
- Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. In a small number of people with fatty liver, the fat causes inflammation in the liver. This can impair the liver's ability to function and lead to scarring of the liver (cirrhosis).
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease-associated cirrhosis. Liver inflammation leads to scarring of the liver tissue. With time, scarring can become so severe that the liver no longer functions adequately (liver failure).
Despite a growing understanding of the pathology of NAFLD, scientists have been persistently baffled in their attempts to prevent and treat it with drug therapies. Lifestyle interventions such as steady, gentle weight loss and regular exercise have been the only interventions that offered any hope at all (Schuppan et al 2010, Musso et al 2010). Our Health Renewal Doctors will advise you on the best current allopathic and natural remedies available.
A wide range of diseases and conditions can increase your risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, including:
Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions. Being ready to answer them may allow more time later to cover other points you want to address. Your doctor may ask:
- Have you experienced any symptoms, such as yellowing of the eyes or skin, abdominal pain or swelling, or swelling in your legs? What were the results of tests done at that time?
- Do you drink alcohol? If so, how much and how often?
- What medications do you take, including over-the-counter drugs and supplements?
- Have you ever been told that you have hepatitis?
- Do other people in your family have liver disease?
Tests and procedures used to diagnose non-alcoholic fatty liver disease include:
- Blood tests. Liver function tests, including tests of liver enzymes, may help your doctor make a diagnosis.
- Imaging procedures. Imaging procedures used to diagnose fatty liver disease include ultrasound, computerised tomography (CT) scan and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
- Liver tissue testing. If it's suspected that you have a more serious form of the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, your doctor may recommend a procedure to remove a sample of tissue from your liver (liver biopsy).
No standard treatment for the non-alcoholic fatty liver disease exists.
Instead, doctors typically work to treat the risk factors that contribute to your liver disease. For instance, if you're obese, your doctor can help you to lose weight through diet, exercise and, in some cases, medications and surgery.
Your doctor may recommend that you receive vaccinations against hepatitis A and hepatitis B to help protect you from viruses that may cause further liver damage.
To reduce your risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease:
- Choose a healthy diet. Choose a healthy plant-based diet that's rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.
- Maintain a healthy weight. If you are overweight or obese, reduce the number of calories you eat each day and get more exercise. If you have a healthy weight, work to maintain it by choosing a healthy diet and exercising.
- Exercise. Exercise most days of the week. Get an OK from your doctor first if you haven't been exercising regularly.