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Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Make Lifestyle Changes for Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

January 12, 2022

By Ariana Samani, MD

It’s not surprising when people who drink excessive alcohol develop liver damage. But it’s a different story for those who drink little to no alcohol. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is the accumulation of liver fat when alcohol is not involved. Although there is no treatment, lifestyle changes can make a difference.

How Do You Know?

Unfortunately, you often don’t know. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can happen without any symptoms, which is why it’s sometimes called a silent liver disease. When 5 to 10 percent of the liver’s weight is fat, it’s considered a fatty liver.

Most people with this disease have fat in their liver but have no liver damage. A more severe and aggressive level of this liver disease combines fat in the liver plus liver damage (nonalcoholic steatohepatis). This leads to cirrhosis of the liver, which can cause liver failure or liver cancer when left untreated. Your liver is an organ you can’t live without.

If any symptoms are present, it could be pain in the right side of the abdomen and fatigue.

Frequently, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is only discovered through routine blood work that show high levels of liver enzyme. Although imaging tests can help diagnose the disease, a biopsy is truly the only way to be certain.

Risk Factors

People who are overweight or obese and have high triglycerides/cholesterol are more at risk to develop nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Approximately 25 percent of the United States have this disease. Other risk factors include having high blood pressure or diabetes/prediabetes.

Healthy vs Fatty Liver

Debunking the Myths

Don’t fall prey to myths that liver cleanses can help you detox after too much food or alcohol over the weekend. Or that they can correct existing liver damage. When it comes to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, weight loss is the most effective treatment. This not only decreases the amount of fat in the liver but also reduces the inflammation caused by the fat.

Make Lifestyle Changes

Although there is no treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, lifestyle changes can help reverse fat buildup in the liver. Fortunately, the liver has a strong ability to repair itself. Make adjustments to your lifestyle to turn things around:

  • Lose weight – Eat a healthy diet of fruits, vegetables, grains, proteins, and dairy. American Lung Foundation suggests losing 7 percent to 10 percent of body fat with low carbohydrates.
  • Reduce triglycerides and cholesterol – Keep cholesterol and triglycerides at healthy levels with exercise, a healthy plant-based diet, and medications.
  • Control diabetes – Monitor blood sugar and take medications to help control diabetes.
  • Reduce or eliminate alcohol – This protects your liver and avoids stressing the liver.
  • Exercise regularly -- Engage in at least 30 minutes of exercise five times a week.

Consult with your primary care doctor for other lifestyle recommendations.

Headshot of Ariana Samani, MD

About the Author

Dr. Samani is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician at Kelsey-Seybold. Her clinical interests include prevention, obesity, and diabetes.

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