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An Introduction to Fatty Liver Disease (Part 2)

Dr. Mehreen Zaman Niazi

3 min read

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As the name indicates, fatty liver disease is a medical condition caused by fat accumulation in the liver’s cells. It is difficult to detect due to the subtleness or altogether absence of symptoms during early stages whilst it gradually progresses from harmless fat accumulation to permanent liver scarring and shrinkage (cirrhosis). Let’s take a look at risk factors and treatments for fatty liver disease.

Risk Factors:

While alcoholic steatohepatitis targets habitual alcohol abusers, non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) commonly affects individuals in their 40s and 50s, type II diabetics, and those with excess abdominal fat. Other common risk factors include:

  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hypopituitarism
  • Rapid weight loss
  • High blood fat levels
  • Obstructive sleep apnea
  • Exposure to certain toxins
  • High cholesterol and triglycerides
  • Inability to properly utilise insulin
  • Corticosteroids and certain cancer drugs
  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (in women)

Note: Those who do not suffer from any of the above conditions may also develop fatty liver disease.

Risk Factors:

Most complications arise when late-stage fatty liver disease i.e. cirrhosis or liver scarring is left unchecked. They include:

  • Liver cancer
  • Total liver failure
  • Ascites (abdominal fluid buildup)
  • Drowsiness, confusion, and slurred speech
  • Swollen veins of the esophagus that may rupture and bleed

Treatment:

While no medications currently exist for fatty liver treatment, the following measures can help with early-stage remission and later-stage deceleration:

1- Weight Loss:

Since excess body fat is a prime factor, patients are usually encouraged to lose at least 10% of their body weight, although improvement can also be observed after losing 3-5% of the intial body weight.  Obese individuals may opt for weight-reduction surgery.

2- Vaccinations:

Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, flu, and pneumococcal disease vaccines are normally administered to those with a fatty liver, as  they have an increased risk of infection due to their weakened immune system. Contracting liver infection with FLD increases chances of liver failure.

3- Liver Transplant:

Those with impaired livers due to end-stage cirrhosis may require a liver transplant. However, patients that retain some liver function may opt for a partial transplant, in which a section is removed from a donor’s liver and implanted onto the patient’s liver, both of which then regenerate themselves to grow to a normal size.

4- Lifestyle Adjustments:

  • Maintain a healthy, plant-based diet comprised of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy fats and soy, chicken, turkey, and fish instead of red meats. Also, reduce your daily calorie intake for added weight loss.
  • Exercise moderately for at least 30 minutes a day, 5 days a week and increase daily physical activity, such as opting for the stairs instead of using the lift.
  • Control diabetes and cholesterol levels by regularly monitoring your blood sugar and triglyceride levels, and taking your prescribed medication.
  • Take Vitamin E supplements as it has been shown to reduce fatty liver progression by reducing or neutralizing liver damage caused by inflammation. However, evidence on whether or not vitamin E supplements are beneficial is contradictory as it is also said to increase the chances of prostate cancer in men.
  • Drink Coffee. It has been reported to reduce liver damage in NASH-affected individuals who drank the beverage daily as opposed to those who didn’t. However, like vitamin E supplements, the effects of coffee are yet to be researched further.
  • Quit drinking if you are an alcoholic as it is the best solution to halt further progression. Specialized medications that reduce cravings or induce sickness upon drinking alcohol can help with rehabilitation. Another option would be to participate in an alcohol recovery program.
Home remedies

Lifestyle changes are the first-line treatment for fatty liver disease. Depending on your current condition and lifestyle habits, it might help to:

  • lose weight
  • reduce your alcohol intake
  • eat a nutrient-rich diet that’s low in excess calories, saturated fat, and trans fats
  • get at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week

According to the Mayo Clinic, some evidence suggests that vitamin E supplements might help prevent or treat liver damage caused by fatty liver disease. However, more research is needed. There are some health risks associated with consuming too much vitamin E.

Prevention

To prevent fatty liver and its potential complications, it’s important to follow a healthy lifestyle.

  • Limit or avoid alcohol.
  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Eat a nutrient-rich diet that’s low in saturated fats, trans fats, and refined carbohydrates.
  • Take steps to control your blood sugar, triglyceride levels, and cholesterol levels.
  • Follow your doctor’s recommended treatment plan for diabetes, if you have it.
  • Aim for at least 30 minutes of exercise most days of the week.

Taking these steps can also help improve your overall health.

Always talk to your doctor before you try a new supplement or natural remedy. Some supplements or natural remedies might put stress on your liver or interact with medications you’re taking.

While most people do not progress beyond the first stage after being diagnosed, prompt treatment is necessary to ensure complete remission. If you feel you may be suffering from fatty liver disease,, consult your doctor immediately. You can also book an appointment with a top gastroenterologists in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad through oladoc.com. or call our helpline at 042-3890-0939 for assistance to find the RIGHT doctor for your health concerns.

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are intended to raise awareness about common health issues and should not be viewed as sound medical advice for your specific condition. You should always consult with a licensed medical practitioner prior to following any suggestions outlined in this article or adopting any treatment protocol based on the contents of this article.

Dr. Mehreen Zaman Niazi - Author Dr. Mehreen Zaman Niazi is a Hepatologist practicing in Lahore. With MBBS, FCPS (Gastroenterology) and 10 years of experience in the field, she offers sound medical advice and services to patients for a range of medical conditions.
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