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How to Prevent Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease with Functional Medicine

In the U.S. NAFLD is the most rapidly increasing cause of liver disease, and some estimates state that early stages affect a little over 30% of the population. In the past, this fatty liver disease was primarily seen in older adults, but new studies show cases are quickly becoming skewed toward adults in their 30s and 40s. Let’s find out why this type of fatty liver disease is on the rise, what causes it, and how you can prevent it with functional medicine strategies. We'll also share some of the best foods, herbs, and dietary supplements for healing fatty liver disease.

Want to get ahead of chronic issues like fatty liver and high cholesterol? Get started with functional medicine today.

What is fatty liver disease?

Fatty liver disease results from the accumulation of fat deposits in the liver, and is usually caused by excessive alcohol use, or poor dietary habits. When the liver becomes overburdened with the downstream effects of metabolic dysfunction, it cannot process nutrients and waste products normally, and this results in fatty deposits that further bog down the liver. People tend to develop fatty liver if they have certain other conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, or high triglycerides.

When fatty liver disease progresses, it may lead to fibrosis and cirrhosis of the liver, which are potentially serious and life-threatening problems.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or liver disease not caused by alcohol, Previously, fatty liver was mostly seen in the later decades of life and as a result of years of alcohol overuse. NAFLD affects more than one third of Americans (1).

Shop: Liver GI Detox

NAFLD vs alcoholic fatty liver disease

There are different types of fatty liver disease: 

Alcohol-induced fatty liver disease is caused by prolonged heavy drinking, and is the cause of about 20-25% of liver disease in the U.S., though most people who suffer from alcohol use disorders have some degree of fatty liver disease. 

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) occurs in people who aren’t heavy drinkers. You’re more likely to have NAFLD if you’re a male, over 40 years of age, overweight, or have type 2 diabetes (1). NAFLD is the most rapidly growing contributor to liver mortality and morbidity (2). It can also affect children and teens due to their over consumption of sodas, sweets, and high-carb foods.

Read: Are You Really Healthy? These 7 Tests Will Tell

Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Signs & Symptoms

In its initial stages, NAFLD rarely has any symptoms. Patients are usually unaware they  have NAFLD. Symptoms of fatty liver may include:

  • Fatigue and malaise
  • Depression
  • Dull right upper quadrant discomfort or a feeling of fullness
  • Often asymptomatic

NAFLD is often first detected by testing in your doctor’s office. Your doctor may suspect NAFLD if you also have (3,4):

  • Elevated triglycerides or “bad” LDL cholesterol
  • High HbA1c
  • increased levels of the liver enzymes alanine aminotransferase (ALT) and aspartate aminotransferase (AST)
  • Insulin resistance

Fatty liver disease is driven by diet & lifestyle

Despite its name, the culprit behind fatty liver is very often not fat. NAFLD is primarily caused by excessive calorie or food intake, and particularly excessive sugar (5). The liver plays a key role in removing excess sugar from the blood after a meal. 

Glucose from excess dietary carbohydrates undergoes a biochemical process known as glycolysis in the liver and is eventually converted into triglycerides for very low-density lipoproteins secretion (6). This process results in the deposit of fatty acids in the liver. Over time, these fatty deposits accumulate, which is what leads to the disease.

Processed foods, fast food, and sugary drinks are some of the worst offenders when it comes to causing fatty liver. Not only do these foods contain large amounts of sugar, but they also contain unhealthy fats that can further damage the liver.

Read: Is Type 2 Diabetes Reversible?

Want to learn more?

NAFLD: The trouble with HFCS

Fructose is naturally found in table sugar and fruit, as is glucose. Glucose, in moderation, is generally healthy for our cells, as is fructose when consumed as a natural component of fruits and vegetables. However, this is not the case when part of sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

Studies have shown that the excessive consumption of fructose can be toxic to the liver (7). Unlike glucose, which is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream and taken up by cells, about 70% of fructose is shuttled directly to the liver (8). When fructose reaches the liver, the liver uses excess fructose to create fat in a process called lipogenesis. Eventually, this can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. 

HFCS consumption has fortunately declined in recent decades, falling from 62.5 lbs per person, per year to 36.7 lbs per person, per year (9).

Additionally, a 2009 study showed that shifting 25% of dietary calories from glucose to fructose caused a 4-fold increase in abdominal fat (10). Abdominal fat is a strong predictor of insulin resistance, poor blood sugar control, and high triglycerides.

Read: The Top 10 Best Natural Supplements for Weight Loss

Other possible Risk Factors of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

  • Obesity
  • Smoking
  • Poor diet (high in sugar and fat, or HFCS)
  • Heavy drinking
  • High triglycerides 
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Type 2 diabetes or insulin resistance
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS)
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Exposure to environmental toxins

Related: 5 Ways to Control Your Hunger Hormone

Fatty liver linked to insulin resistance, heart disease, metabolic dysfunction, cancer, Alzheimer’s

Once fatty deposits overburden the liver, classic signs of metabolic dysfunction become apparent. The liver then becomes insulin resistant and over-produces glucose and V-LDL. This results in poor blood sugar control, a decreased ratio of HDL to LDL, and high triglycerides (11). 

Metabolic dysfunction is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s, and some cancers.

Metabolic health has now become a major focus in the treatment and progression of dementia. Many recent studies have focused on the increasing prevalence of dementia in patients with NAFLD. Studies show the progression of dementia with NAFLD may be affected by various risk factors, including brain insulin resistance, cerebrovascular dysfunction, gut dysbiosis, and neuroinflammation (12) 

Keep Reading: Is Alzheimer’s Type 3 Diabetes?

Treatment focus for NAFLD

The good news is that fatty liver is a reversible condition, especially in its early stages. There is no medication that can remove fatty deposits in your liver, but fatty liver can often be reversed with diet and lifestyle changes. Follow these tips to make changes.

Avoid foods that place a burden on the liver

Such as alcohol, ultra-processed foods, soft drinks, and other foods sweetened with HFCS. Limit sugars and carbohydrates that are converted to fat in the liver and stimulate triglyceride synthesis.

Weight loss

If overweight, losing weight has been shown to improve NAFLD. Some studies suggest that losing 10% of your body weight may be the most effective way to reverse fatty liver disease (13). Keeping a low carbohydrate intake focused primarily on fiber-rich vegetables, healthy fats, and sufficient protein can help achieve this goal. Learn more about weight loss with functional medicine at CentreSpringMD.

High antioxidant and anti-inflammatory food intake

Foods that are high in antioxidants help mediate the inflammation that plays a role in metabolic dysfunction and fatty liver. Berries, greens, omega-3 fats from fish and seafood, plus naturally anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric may help.

Optimize methylation to detox the liver

Methylation is a key biochemical process that helps the liver detoxify. Methylation deficiencies are common and can contribute to fatty liver (14). Optimizing methylation with B vitamins, magnesium, and omega-three fatty acids may help improve fatty liver disease. You can boost methylation and detox with uniquely formulated IV weight loss drip.

Reduce exposure to toxins

Environmental toxins like pesticides, herbicides, cleaning supplies, and heavy metals can contribute to fatty liver disease. Reducing your exposure to these toxins is important for preventing and reversing fatty liver.

Supplements to support Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

The liver needs certain nutrients to function optimally, including amino acids, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and vitamins C and E. Supporting detoxification with these nutrients supports healthy liver function, in addition to:

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) has also long been used to treat ailment affecting the liver. The main bioactive compound in milk thistle, known as silymarin, has been shown in numerous studies to enhance liver function, protect from—and even reverse liver damage, and improve insulin sensitivity (15). 

Functional Medicine Labs to Test for Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Usually, NAFLD or other liver problems are detected by your doctor after testing, as it’s unlikely that you’ll experience symptoms, especially in the early stages.

A functional medicine professional may recommend the following tests to evaluate liver health:

  • Gut function analysis. Comprehensive gut testing is recommended to patients with NAFLD. A stool analysis can examine gut bacteria, as well as identify leaky gut and other underlying infections.
  • Inflammation markers. In response to inflammation, the liver releases CRP, a protein that indicates you have a health issue somewhere in the body.
  • Liver function tests. 
  • Blood sugar and metabolic markers. The metabolic evaluations revealed the cause underlying NAFLD.
  • The fatty liver index is a non-invasive screening tool that uses an algorithm of waist circumference, triglycerides, and gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT) to identify fatty liver (16).

Don’t wait to schedule functional testing that could identify chronic health issues early—contact a patient care coordinator now.

Functional medicine for fatty liver

Fatty liver disease is on the rise, but there are things you can do to prevent it. By reducing exposure to toxins, supporting detoxification with nutrients, and addressing underlying gut health and blood sugar issues, you can keep your liver healthy and prevent fatty liver disease. If you think you may have fatty liver disease, talk to your doctor and consider seeking out a functional medicine practitioner to help you develop a treatment plan that’s tailored to you.

Functional medicine is an approach to healthcare that looks at the whole person and addresses the root cause of disease. It’s a personalized, systems-oriented approach that considers all factors that affect health, including nutrition, lifestyle, environment, and genetics. 

Resources 

  1. https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/hep4.1935
  2. https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hep.31173 
  3. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-022-05766-y 
  4. https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/hep4.1603 
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3160564/ 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6359196/
  7. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fphar.2021.783393/full 
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8267750/ 
  9. https://www.statista.com/statistics/328893/per-capita-consumption-of-high-fructose-corn-syrup-in-the-us/ 
  10. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2673878/ 
  11. https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/ATVBAHA.107.147538

Tags

Holistic Medicine, liver, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, nutrition


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