Too much of everything is bad for our health. A cliché that has been proven to be true especially in terms of wellness and health. While we enjoy everything that the world could offer, we must never forget that having a disease-free lives is our goal. After all, when our body fails, we eventually lose the world along its perks. One of the most important organs in our body that needs our care is the liver. The liver helps the body digest food, store energy, and remove poisons. Fatty liver disease is a condition in which fat builds up in your liver (1). It is, in fact, the largest organ in our body located on the upper-right side of the abdomen, which aids remove toxins and process food nutrients (2). In addition, blood from the digestive system filters through the liver before travelling anywhere else in the body (3). The liver is so diverse that it has the ability to regenerate or regrow. But despite such capabilities, it can also degenerate. One condition is when liver accumulates too much fats, hence, called fatty liver.
What is Fatty Liver?
Fatty liver is the accumulation of triglycerides and other fats in the liver cells (4). It is the buildup of fats within the cells of the liver to the point that more than 5-10% of the liver is fat (5). Such results to fatty liver diseases. If such condition is not addressed, it may progress to more serious liver diseases and other health problems. Fatter liver diseases are becoming increasingly common in many parts of the world, affecting about 25% of people globally, which is linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes and other disorders characterized by insulin resistance.
2 types of Fatty Liver Disease:
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)
Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFL)
What is Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)?
It is a very common disorder and refers to a group of conditions where there is an accumulation of excess fat in the liver of people who drink little or no alcohol (6). Simple fatty liver is the most common form of NAFLD. It is a non-serious condition where fat accumulates in the liver cells. Although having fat in the liver is not normal, by itself it probably does not damage the liver. Another type of NAFLD form that may be a more serious condition compared to the simple fatty liver is called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). In NASH, fat accumulation is associated with liver cell inflammation and different degrees of scarring (7). Severe liver scarring and cirrhosis may be its serious effects. Cirrhosis occurs when the liver sustains substantial damage, and the liver cells are gradually replaced by scar tissue, which results in the inability of the liver to work properly (8). In some cases, patients who develop cirrhosis may eventually need to undergo a procedure called liver transplant.
Most people with NAFLD live with fat in their liver without developing liver damage that is why it is sometimes called silent liver disease (9). It can happen without causing any symptoms that can only be diagnosed when you have routine blood tests to check your liver (10). However, a few people who have fat in their liver develop NASH. If you have NASH, you may have symptoms that could take years for them to develop into a permanent scarring and hardening of your liver (11). Identified symptoms of NASH may include severe tiredness, weakness, unexplained weight loss, yellowing of the skin or eyes, spiderlike blood vessels on the skin, a dull or aching pain in the top right of the tummy and long-lasting itching. When left unchecked, this condition may cause symptoms like fluid retention, internal bleeding, muscle wasting, and confusion and, worse, people with cirrhosis over time may develop liver failure (12).
Although children and young adults can get fatty liver disease, it is most common in middle age. Risk factors include being overweight, having high blood fat levels, either triglycerides or LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, having diabetes or prediabetes, and having high blood pressure (13).
Another interesting fruit of research reveals an identified possible cause of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. According to a study published recently in Cell Metabolism, the researchers isolated from the feces of people with liver disease strains of Klebsiella pneumoniae that produce up to about five times as much alcohol as strains of the same species found in healthy people (14). The researchers hypothesized that these strains of the bacterium might also be underlain NAFLD, as in those cases patients’ livers harbor damage similar to that from heavy, long-term drinking, but they aren’t heavy drinkers (15).
Related: Top 7 Liver Health Supplements You Need To Know About
What is Alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFL)?
Alcoholic fatty liver disease is due to heavy alcohol use. The liver breaks down most of the alcohol you drink, so it can be removed from your body. However, harmful substances are produced during the process that can damage liver cells, promote inflammation, and weaken your body’s natural defenses (16). In addition, heavy drinking leads to cell damage and the liver is less able to process most toxins, including fats. When this happens, the liver no longer breaks down fats and the cells collect in the blood and around the organ itself. When AFL develops in a person and he does not get treatment, cirrhosis will develop, followed by alcoholic hepatitis, and eventual liver failure (17). The more alcohol that you drink, the more you damage your liver. Alcoholic fatty liver disease is the earliest stage of alcohol-related liver disease and the next stages are alcoholic hepatitis and cirrhosis (18).
Fatty liver disease rarely causes any symptoms. But it’s important to see warning signs that you’re drinking at a harmful level. Fatty liver disease is reversible, though. If you stop drinking alcohol for 2 weeks, your liver should return to normal (19). Fortunately, alcoholic fatty liver is very easy to treat and even reverse. Since the liver regenerates cells, it can recover from fatty liver if the cause is alcohol. There are natural ways to improve your liver function. You must stop drinking, and within six weeks, the fat around your liver will be gone. You will be at risk for developing AFL again, though, if you go back to drinking. Quitting then relapsing means you are at risk of alcohol poisoning, which can be fatal (20). Lifestyle changes are also recommended including controlling how much alcohol you drink, managing cholesterol in foods and beverages, losing weight, exercising more and controlling blood sugar (21).
Both alcoholic fatty liver disease and one type of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can lead to cirrhosis. It is important to be careful of the food we eat and remain vigilant of whatever changes in our body. Once symptoms detected, consult your doctor the soonest.