Fatty liver is now recognized as the most common cause of abnormal liver function tests in the western world. Around one in five persons in the USA has a fatty liver and it is poised to be as big a disease as diabetes. Fatty liver is usually associated with abdominal obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes. Fatty liver may be associated with or may lead to inflammation of the liver. This can cause scarring and hardening of the liver. When scarring becomes extensive, it is called cirrhosis, and this is a very serious condition which can lead to liver failure.
What causes Fatty Liver? Stress and diet! Stress and diet are the two major causes. When you are chronically stressed, your adrenal glands pump out cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol causes the deposition of abdominal fat, including fat deposits in the liver. Excessive alcohol similarly causes the liver to acquire fat, possibly to protect it from the alcohol toxins. Obesity itself and diabetes mellitus can cause fatty liver, and in turn be caused by the condition. Eating fats alone seems not to cause the condition, but eating trans fats and inflammatory fats may be associated with causing fatty liver.
Many people with a fatty liver are unaware that they even have a liver problem, as the symptoms can be vague and non-specific, especially in the early stages. Most people with a fatty liver feel generally unwell, and find they are becoming increasingly fatigued and overweight for no apparent reason.
Possible symptoms of fatty liver include:
- Weight excess in the abdominal area
- Elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels
- Elevated liver enzymes
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Overheating of the body (inflammation make deficient heat.)
- Excessive sweating
- Red itchy eyes (the Liver opens to the eyes).
Carbohydrates that break down rapidly can make fatty liver worse. Researchers, led by David Ludwig, MD, PhD, director of the Optimal Weight for Life program at Children’s Hospital Boston, fed mice either a high- or a low-glycemic index diet with the same caloric content. High-glycemic index foods, including white bread, white rice, most prepared breakfast cereals and concentrated sugar, raise blood sugar quickly. Low-glycemic index foods, like most vegetables, fruits, beans and unprocessed grains, raise blood sugar slowly. At the end of the experiment, both groups of rats weighed the same but those on the high glycemic diet were not as lean as the others and had twice the normal amount of fat in their bodies, blood and livers. When sugar melts out of high-glycemic index food, Ludwig explains, it drives up production of insulin, which tells the body to make and store fat. Nowhere is this message felt more strongly than in the liver, because the pancreas, which makes insulin, dumps the hormone directly into the liver.
Where just one case of fatty liver was reported in children in 1980, now between 1 in 4 and 1 in 2 overweight American children are estimated to have the condition. As these millions of children age, some will progress to full-blown liver disease. This may replace diabetes as the next serious illness.
Eating a low fat diet will not itself reduce fatty liver. The French delicacy pate de fois gras — the fatty liver of a duck or goose — is produced by over-feeding the animals with high-glycemic index grains. So low carbohydrate diets with low glycemic indexes are more likely to make improvements.
What can you do for a fatty liver?
- Acupuncture is well known to reduce stress. It can also reduce blood sugar, improve digestive function, soothe the liver and calm the shen (mind).
- Eat fewer carbohydrates, especially grains and sweets. Poor diet is the leading cause of fatty liver disease. The biggest offenders are sugar and foods made of white flour; they need to be avoided completely. However, a high intake of carbohydrate rich foods in general can promote fatty liver, as the liver converts carbohydrate into fat. Foods that need to be restricted include bread, pasta, rice, breakfast cereals, potatoes and any food made of flour
- Drink less alcohol. Excess alcohol consumption is the second biggest cause of fatty liver. Alcohol can cause inflammation and damage to liver cells, resulting in fatty infiltration. People with a fatty liver should limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day, with at least two alcohol free days per week.
- Eat more vegetables. Raw vegetables and low glycemic fruits are the most powerful liver healing foods. These raw foods help to cleanse and repair the liver filter, so that it can trap and remove more fat and toxins from the bloodstream. Eat an abundance of vegetables (cooked and raw salads) and fresh fruits like blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, and lower sugar fruits.
- Protein is important because it helps to keep the blood sugar level stable, helps with weight loss from the abdomen and reduces hunger and cravings. Protein should be consumed with each meal. Good sources of protein include eggs, poultry, seafood, meat, nuts, seeds, legumes and dairy products.
- Avoid Vegetable oils. Most vegetable oil and margarine can worsen a fatty liver. Healthy fats to include more of in your diet are found in butter, ghee, extra virgin coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, oily fish, flaxseeds, chia and raw nuts and seeds.
- Drink raw vegetable juices. Raw juices are an excellent source of highly concentrated vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Your juice should be comprised of 80 to 100 percent vegetables, with the remainder comprised of fruit. Do not drink fruit juice; it is too high in carbohydrate and calories.
- Take a good liver herbs. Dandelion, milk thistle and artichoke are good liver tonics and your herbalist can customize other herbs depending upon your Chinese medicine pattern of disease. A good liver tonic can promote repair of damaged liver cells and facilitate the fat burning and detoxification abilities of the liver.