Preventing fatty liver disease before it’s too late
Healthy eating, consistent exercise and limited alcohol consumption are things everyone should be cautious of in daily life. But rarely do people think of the legitimate health concerns that comes with weight gain.
Fatty liver disease is a medical condition when excessive fats accumulate in the liver. These fats may trigger liver injury like inflammation and scarring, or fibrosis.
Many conditions can cause fat accumulation in the liver. The two most common causes are alcohol and metabolic disorders, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. The latter cause is medically known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD.
Both causes can be avoided by maintaining healthy lifestyle choices. Excessive alcohol use can lead to direct liver injury along with fatty liver disease. It is always important to avoid excessive alcohol drinking at any time.
NAFLD is a lifestyle-driven disease often associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes and high cholesterol. The most effective way to prevent it is eating healthy diet and exercise regularly.
One health change to prevent the onset of fatty liver disease is the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, and white meat. Also, there is some room for red wine. The diet stemming from the Mediterranean region has shown benefits in reducing liver fat and inflammation.
In general, monitoring your intake of simple sugar in things like sweetened drinks or desserts is a step in the right direction. Added sugar causes increased fat infiltration in the liver and should be avoided.
Weight loss remains the fundamental and most effective treatment for people with NAFLD. Studies have shown that losing more than 7 - 10 percent of baseline weight improves liver fat, inflammation and fibrosis. Bariatric surgery should be considered in obese people who are not able to lose desired weight successfully.
People with fatty liver disease rarely have any symptoms until they develop end-stage liver disease called cirrhosis. Therefore it’s important to raise public awareness of the disease. People with high risk to develop NAFLD such as obesity, type 2 diabetes and family history should consider evaluation for presence of the disease and stage of liver injury.
It is better to be proactive than reactive, so the best time to start preventing liver disease is now.
Dr. Na Li is a gastroenterologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.