The Truth about Fatty Liver Disease and How to Avoid It
August 20, 2016
By Katie Vigesaa, RD, LD
Did you know that the liver is the largest organ in your body? It has many important jobs ranging from cleansing your blood to converting the food you eat into energy. Since it has so many important duties, keeping it healthy is extremely important to your health. But what factors can reduce your liver's ability to function properly?
Poor liver function can be caused by several factors, including an accumulation of toxic chemicals from alcohol or medications or even your diet. There are two types of fatty liver disease, alcohol related or non-alcohol related. In fact, research has found that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the leading cause of chronic liver disease in the United States and other Western countries.¹ The term "fatty liver" may have you running away from avocados and olives, but did you know that fatty liver disease is not actually caused by fat in our diets?
Let's look at a couple examples and discover what does cause fatty liver disease.
Jack is a 49-year-old business man who has a habit of ending his long, stressful days with several glasses of whiskey, a habit he's had for most of his adult life. He started to have increased fatigue and weakness and intermittent confusion. If Jack had gone to his doctor, he would have been diagnosed with alcohol-related fatty liver disease. Eventually, Jack developed a more advanced form of fatty liver disease called Cirrhosis, in which the liver becomes scarred and the damage is irreversible.
Jill is 57-year-old woman with diabetes. She describes herself as a "carboholic," admitting that she just can't get enough carbs. Her favorite foods include muffins for breakfast, sandwiches for lunch and pasta for dinner. She snacks on pretzels, popcorn and the occasional soda. She, too, has been experiencing fatigue, and during a routine check-up she is diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NALFD).
Making the Fatty Liver Connection
So, what is the connection to fatty liver disease? Both Jack and Jill were consuming foods and beverages that in excess cause damage to the liver. Jack's liver damage was done by alcohol; Jill's by too many carbohydrates.
When the liver is subjected to a steady stream of alcohol or other toxins, it cannot function properly. Reduced liver function makes it more difficult to process the foods we eat, and over time, leads to fatty liver disease and eventually Cirrhosis.
We know that alcohol is toxic to the liver, but how are excess carbohydrates damaging to the liver? When you have a large blueberry muffin and glass of orange juice for breakfast, you are consuming too many carbohydrates. All carbohydrates turn into glucose or sugar in your body. Over time, excess glucose or sugar is stored as fat and can create fatty liver disease.
Avoiding Fatty Liver Disease
You may now realize that an obvious way to avoid liver disease is to limit alcohol consumption. However, it is as dangerous to consume too many processed carbohydrates as it is too much alcohol.
If you are a carboholic like Jill, you may need help controlling your cravings. Do you have a mid-afternoon vending machine habit, raid the candy dish every time you walk by it, or rely on soda to get you through the afternoon? We've got you covered. Our Crave Control Plus supplement supplies important neurotransmitter building blocks, along with crucial vitamins and minerals, to support your brain chemistry and reduce your carbohydrate cravings.
Fatty liver disease is a serious health condition. Most people with this condition need to work with a trained nutritionist to overcome the unhealthy lifestyle habits that cause fatty liver disease before it becomes Cirrhosis.
For more information, listen to the Fatty Liver Disease episode of Dishing Up Nutrition.
1 Lazo M, Hernaez R, Bonekamp S, Kamel IR, Brancati FL, Guallar E, Clark JM (2011). "Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and mortality among US adults: prospective cohort study". BMJ343: d6891. DOI: 10.1136/bmj.d6891. PMC 3220620. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3220620/pdf/bmj.d6891.pdf.