NFLD a condition whereby fat accumulates in the liver and compromises function. It is, in fact, an increasingly growing problem that is often left unchecked and overlooked. The liver performs about 500 functions – critical in detoxification, hormone balance, blood sugar regulation, helps in storing vitamins and minerals, facilitates blood clotting and immune system modulation. It’s often referred to as the “stealth organ” – functioning quietly until problems arise. It’s now considered in the medical community as the “silent killer.”
It doesn’t just afflict obese and diabetic individuals. Liver disease is often associated with excessive alcohol use. NAFLD doesn’t have to be triggered by alcohol use.
NAFLD is dangerous because the triglyceride fats released by a damaged liver are in fact a better predictor of heart disease than LDL cholesterol. It’s closely linked to metabolic syndrome, which involves high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and weight gain – a precursor to stroke, diabetes and cognitive impairment.
Left untreated, NAFLD can progress to NASH ( nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) – liver inflammation. This can lead to liver fibrosis which can lead to cirrhosis, and ultimately, liver failure.
The good news: all factors that lead to NAFLD are lifestyle related. Changes in your diet, levels of activity and reducing environmental toxins can significantly improve the health of your liver.
Artificial Sweeteners and Processed Foods
NAFLD can be fueled by artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup and refined carbohydrates. High consumption of these foods has a profound effect on fatty liver. Oddly, it’s not fat intake that drives up fatty levels in the liver. Excess fat in the liver comes from either surrounding adipose tissue (where elevated insulin triggers fat storage) or is created in the liver when we consume high levels of fructose ( also known as de novo lipogenesis).
When we consume fructose it is processed in the liver. The body’s preferred fuel storage substance is glycogen, but the liver cannot easily convert fructose into glycogen. Since fructose has to be stored somewhere, the liver converts it into fat – the body’s other energy storage molecule. Alcohol and fructose are metabolized the same way. Sugar has been termed the “alcohol of a child.”
Accumulated fat in the liver then leads to two possibilities – the fat can return to the bloodstream as triglycerides, which can stick to the artery walls, leading to atherosclerosis, or it can remain in the liver and disrupt liver function.
How NAFLD progresses to NASH:
According to Dina Halegoua-DeMarzio, MD, ” The presence of fat in the liver causes stress to the liver cells surrounded by the fat. The new fat cells move in next to healthy liver cells, irritating and inflaming them. Then those irritated liver cells lay down scarce tissue, and that decreases liver function.”
Additionally, before steatosis starts, liver function deteriorates, leading to problems throughout the body – reducing elimination of toxins and hormone byproducts and weakening the immune system.
Blood sugar dysregulation also occurs. Once the liver becomes fatty from too much fructose, the pancreas starts to over compensate for the weakened liver. It releases more insulin to aid the liver but ends up creating new fat. This makes fatty liver disease both a “trigger and a result of metabolic dysfunction, in which fat burning slows and insulin becomes dysregulated, leading to a host of other health issues.”
Frank Lipman, MD, states: “I never think of fatty liver as separate from metabolic dysfunction.” Metabolic dysfunction, similarly, cannot be separated from the conditions that result from it: type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Other Triggers of NAFLD
Choline Deficiency – choline is a nutrient that helps transport fat throughout the body. Great sources are eggs and liver. If someone is deficient in choline, fat gets into liver but cannot get out.
Sedentary Lifestyle – is also a factor. Simply put, exercise burns fat.
Toxin Exposure – the liver serves as the body’s main detoxification organ. The toxic load from environmental and industrial chemicals on our bodies is immense. The exposure and accumulation of toxins is a huge challenge to the liver. Limiting our exposure to these toxins, combined with improved nutrition will vastly reduce the stress on the liver.
Steps To Prevent And Reverse NAFLD.
1. Stop consuming high fructose corn syrup found in processed foods and sodas. A nutrition plan that focuses on whole foods – vegetables, pastured-animal proteins, nuts, seeds, low-glycemic fruits (blueberries, cherries, grapefruit).
2. Consume fructose from fruit with other foods. Fruits do contain fiber, pectin and phytonutrients which are good for the body.
3. Get daily fiber – fiber prevents the intestines from absorbing fructose too soon, avoiding high impact on the liver. Eat fruit with fiber like chia or flax seeds, nuts and nut butters, avocados and leafy greens.
4. Embrace healthy fats – oily fish, olive oil, avocados, nuts abs seeds, grass fed – animal proteins, coconut oil and glee.
5. Avoid fast foods – high in trans fats and high fructose corn syrup.
6. Increase choline – found in eggs and liver. You can also supplement with choline if needed in the form of phosphatidylcholine.
7. Minimize pharmaceuticals – frequent or overuse can harm the liver ( ex: acetaminophen).
8. Minimize toxin exposure – avoid insecticides like DDT, chemicals used in large scale industrial and agricultural operations, common herbicides like atrazine and glyphosate, heavy metals like lead, mercury and arsenic. So eat organic foods when possible, avoid lawn chemicals, industrial cleaning products, chemical based skin and health care products, use a high quality water filter for your shower and drinking water.
9. Exercise – lowering your body fat can drastically improve liver function and reduce fatty liver. High intensity interval training (HIIT) produces the best fat- burning results.