The prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease mirrors the rising trend of obesity in the United States. Globally, one in four people live with the disease, which results when there is buildup of extra fat in liver cells that is not caused by alcohol. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is now the most common form of chronic liver disease.
NAFLD — sometimes referred to as a “fatty liver” — occurs when more than 5 percent of the liver’s total weight is made up of fatty tissue. Excessive fat in the liver can lead to scarring, which may increase the risk of liver cancer or liver failure. People with NAFLD are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and people with type 2 diabetes are more likely to develop NAFLD. An estimated 70 percent of people with type 2 diabetes also have a fatty liver. Obesity is also a major risk factor for NAFLD.
How do you know if you have NAFLD?
Because nonalcoholic fatty liver disease causes no symptoms in most cases, it frequently comes to medical attention when tests done for other reasons point to a liver problem. This can happen if your liver looks unusual on ultrasound or if you have an abnormal liver enzyme test.
When other tests are inconclusive, your doctor may recommend a procedure to remove a sample of tissue from your liver (liver biopsy). The tissue sample is examined in a laboratory to look for signs of inflammation and scarring. This procedure is performed by a needle insertion through the abdominal wall and into the liver.
The first line of treatment is usually weight loss through a combination of a healthy diet and exercise. Losing weight addresses the conditions that contribute to nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Ideally, a loss of 10 percent of body weight is desirable. However, improvement in risk factors can become apparent if you lose even three to five percent of your starting weight. Weight-loss surgery is also an option for those who need to lose a great deal of weight.
Your doctor may recommend that you receive vaccinations against hepatitis A and hepatitis B to help protect you from viruses that may cause further liver damage.
Losing weight, Increasing Protein and NAFLD
Studies have been conducted suggesting that reducing overall weight and eating a high protein diet may help reduce the fat in the liver. In one study of 25 volunteers, the research team took blood and urine samples and performed body scans to assess liver fat content and the amount of protein eliminated from the volunteers’ bodies at three intervals:
- the start of the weight maintenance phase
- six months later
- then two years later
After two years maintaining their weight loss, the increase in protein was associated with reduced liver fat. In addition, more than half of the participants who were previously diagnosed with NAFLD no longer had a fatty liver!
If you think you may have a liver problem, the doctors at Hunterdon Gastroenterology are Board Certified in both Gastroenterology and Hepatology (Liver Disease). Call today to schedule your consultation at 908-483-4000.
Mayo Clinic, Aug. 2018. Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.
Science Daily, Aug. 2018. More protein after weight loss may reduce fatty liver disease