The liver is the largest internal part of your body and performs more than 500 functions. It regulates chemical levels in your body. Your liver helps in the digestive process, removes toxins, and stores glycogen, vitamins, and minerals. All blood vessels from the stomach and intestines pass through the liver. The liver processes the blood from the stomach and intestines – breaks down, balances, and creates nutrients into forms that are easy to be utilized for all body parts- for carrying different functions. It also metabolizes drugs. Fatty liver disease (FLD) causes- when excess fats start accumulating in your liver. Fatty liver disease is also called hepatic steatosis. Generally, there appear no symptoms of fatty liver disease. A few symptoms can be tiredness or pain in the right side of the abdomen below the ribcage. Fatty liver disease may lead to liver cirrhosis or liver cancer and oesophageal varices ( oesophageal varices are the swollen veins in the lining of the esophagus. They can be life-threatening if got burst and start bleeding).
What are the types of fatty liver disease?
There are two types of fatty liver disease.
- Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
- Alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) can be due to simple fatty liver. And If the fatty liver is accompanied by inflammation of the liver, it is called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Steato- meaning fat and hepatitis is inflammation of the liver. The risk factors of NAFLD include – type-2 diabetes, obesity, or metabolic syndrome. There can be other risk factors such as – the use of certain medications like glucocorticosteroids (beclomethasone, dexamethasone, betamethasone, etc.) and hepatitis C. It is still unclear why some people with NAFLD develop simple fatty liver and others develop NASH. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis – NASH progression may lead to fibrosis (the first stage of liver scarring). Advanced liver fibrosis may lead to cirrhosis, liver failure, and portal hypertension. Which may require a liver transplant.
Generally, NAFLD affects 10% of people in Asian countries, whereas in Western countries it is found in 30% population. It is caused more often in old age people and males. Making dietary changes and reducing weight by adopting a habit of regular exercising can help control- NAFLD. Studies are in progress to better understand the causes, consequences, and treatment options of NAFLD.
Alcoholic fatty liver disease is a silent disease and has few or no symptoms. It is caused by alcohol abuse and only happens in people- who are heavy drinkers. In the early stages, it can be controlled by stopping or limiting alcohol use. In later stages – continued abuse of alcohol may lead to alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver.
What causes fatty liver disease?
The following are the few causes of fatty liver disease.
When you eat food insulin hormone is released into your bloodstream by the pancreas. Insulin enables glucose from your food to enter your cells for the formation of energy for various body activities. During insulin resistance – the cells in your body start resisting or ignoring the signal that the insulin hormone is sending to utilize glucose from your bloodstream for the formation of energy. As a result, less glucose is utilized for energy. And more of it is converted into fat. The liver ends up manufacturing more fat. Which results in fatty liver disease and accumulation of fat in other body parts (obesity).
Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
The small intestine has generally fewer bacteria in comparison to the large intestine. It is due to the rapid flow of contents and the presence of bile juice. But in SIBO stagnant food becomes an ideal breeding ground for bacteria. The bacteria may produce toxins and interfere with the absorption of nutrients. When too many bacteria are present in the small intestine – bacteria and bacterial metabolites may travel to the liver and cause damage to the liver or may result in fatty liver disease. SIBO may cause several symptoms of which abdominal bloating and irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) are the most common.
Celiac disease (gluten intolerance) can increase the risk of the occurrence of fatty liver disease or other more serious liver complications. Celiac disease is an autoimmune disease. In which the immune system mistakenly produces antibodies against healthy cells. Which leads to inflammation in the small intestine. The surface of the intestine is covered with tiny projections called- villi. Which increases the surface area of the intestine and helps in the efficient digestion of food. However, in celiac disease, damage is caused to the lining of the small intestine- which flattens the villi. Which can result in the malabsorption of nutrients. An inflamed intestine can cause fatty liver disease- as in SIBO – mentioned above. The inflammatory chemical produced by the autoimmune disease may also increase the risk factors that add to the causes of fatty liver disease.
Consumption of too much sugar or a carbohydrate-rich diet can lead to increased levels of sugar in the bloodstream. Your liver tries to protect you by converting sugar into fat. Which can get deposited in your liver cells and can be one of the causes of fatty liver disease.
Hepatitis- B, and Hepatitis- C lead to an increased risk of chronic liver inflammation. And is one of the major causes of fatty liver disease. Which latter -leads to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is more likely with Hepatitis C. Many people with hepatitis- C may develop insulin resistance. Which again adds to the causes of fatty liver disease and other serious liver complications. Other viruses like- cytomegalovirus and Epstein Barr can also be the causes of fatty liver disease.
long term use of certain drugs can be one of the causes of fatty liver disease. Such drugs include- a few anti-inflammatory drugs, painkillers, immuno- suppressants, and some cholesterol-lowering drugs. Other medications, that can lead to the causes of fatty liver disease include- corticosteroids, antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs, and most commonly- tamoxifen. Therefore it is always advisable to check with your healthcare provider – about the risks involved in the long-term use of medications.
How to reduce- the risk of fatty liver disease?
Making lifestyle changes can help a lot in treating or reducing the risk of fatty liver disease. The following suggestions can help:-
Fat in your liver can be decreased by losing 5% of your body weight. Inflammation or damaged liver cells can be reduced by losing 7% to 10% of your body weight. Weight should be reduced in a phased manner (1 to 2 pounds per week) as the rapid reduction in weight can further increase inflammation and fibrosis. For more details click on:-
The Impact of Weight Changes on Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Adult Men with Normal Weight
Adopting a regular exercise schedule and remaining physically active – helps in reducing fat in the liver. Exercise helps in reducing excess glucose levels in the blood. Therefore it is less available for fat synthesis in the liver. For more reading click on the link:-
The Effects of Physical Exercise on Fatty Liver Disease
Healthy eating habits
Studies suggest that consuming a healthy diet helps in reducing the risk of fatty liver disease. Adopting nutrition that emphasizes eating a diet- containing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, and nuts, replacing butter with olive oil or canola oil, reducing consumption of red meat, and instead consuming fish and lean poultry helps in reducing the risk of fatty liver disease.
Several studies have suggested that coffee consumption has positive effects on chronic liver diseases. Drinking coffee helps in reducing fat accumulation and collagen deposition in the liver. While more studies are needed- unsweetened coffee consumption may help in reducing the risk of fatty liver disease. For more reading click on:-
Is Coffee Good for health?
Fatty liver disease can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Although sometimes it is difficult to make lifestyle changes. But making changes in your lifestyle can help you up to great extent in not only reducing the risk of fatty liver disease but can also help you in reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Taking care of your liver
- Drink in moderation. It will be better to avoid alcohol consumption completely.
- Consult your healthcare provider before taking medications. Certain supplements, herbal products, or medicines can be harmful to your liver.
- Get vaccinated to get protection from hepatitis- A and hepatitis B.
- Certain health conditions like- high cholesterol levels, metabolic syndrome, obesity, polycystic ovary syndrome, sleep apnea, type-2 diabetes, hypothyroidism, etc may increase the risk of fatty liver disease. Therefore get yourself treated by your healthcare provider.
- In case of liver cirrhosis get yourself screened regularly for liver cancer.
For treatment please consult your healthcare provider.
For awareness purposes only.
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