If you think of liver disease, chances are alcoholics and heavy drinkers come to mind. While it’s true that these individuals are at increased risk for cirrhosis and certain other liver disorders, there’s another condition that can affect this vital organ even in people who drink little (if any) alcohol. Fatty liver is a condition in which fat accumulates in the liver. This disease is very common in people who consume a lot of alcohol, but it’s also reaching almost epidemic proportions in the US in nonalcoholics. Among those who aren’t drinking heavily, obesity is the main risk factor. Individuals who have high triglycerides, diabetes (or even borderline diabetes) are also at increased risk for fatty liver.
What’s most concerning is the insidious way that this condition progresses. As fat continues to accumulate in the liver, the organ becomes inflamed. Months or years of liver inflammation leads to scarring within the liver—and eventually to cirrhosis, possible liver failure (unless the person has a liver transplant) and death. In its early stages, fatty liver causes few symptoms. Your doctor might be able to palpate an enlarged liver, and you may have some indigestion and/or a swollen abdomen. But there is no specific testing for fatty liver, other than a liver biopsy, which involves surgically removing and analyzing a tissue sample from the organ. For this reason, fatty liver disease is usually diagnosed by a doctor based on a physical exam, lifestyle evaluation (red flags include a poor diet and lack of physical activity), excessive body weight and lab tests that show elevated lipids, such as triglycerides, and high blood glucose.
When it comes to treating fatty liver, conventional medical doctors recommend weight loss and perhaps medication for a related condition such as high cholesterol or diabetes. Naturopathic medicine, on the other hand, offers several effective treatment options. My protocol for fatty liver disease…
- Diet. I agree with medical doctors: If you have fatty liver and are overweight, you must lose weight. But do so slowly. Losing more than three pounds a week is hard on your liver. When planning meals, go low-carb—stay away from pasta, bread and sweets. Limit whole grains to two servings a day. Eat vegetables, fresh fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes and no more than one daily serving each of low-fat dairy, lean meat and fish.
- Get the right nutrients. Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that can help repair damaged liver cells. And a multivitamin offers other minerals and vitamins necessary for healthy liver function. In addition, I prescribe choline and methionine—these nutrients are essential for the breakdown of fats that can promote fatty liver. Typical dose: 400 mg each of choline and methionine.
- Try herbs. Research shows that artichoke, dandelion and beet can reduce blood fats that promote fatty liver and support the health of liver cells. You can eat these as vegetables…or take them in powdered form in capsules. You can also find general formulas that contain lipotropic botanical compounds, which help protect the liver by breaking down fats in the blood. Follow the manufacturer’s recommended dose for each of these supplements.
By taking these steps, under the supervision of your doctor, you may be able to actually reverse fatty liver disease—and in the process improve your digestion…boost your energy levels…and perhaps even increase your life span!