Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty liver disease (steatosis) occurs when your body begins storing fat in your liver. Some fat in your liver is normal, but when more than 10% of your liver’s weight is fat, it may begin to suffer. Excessive alcohol use is one common reason for fatty liver disease. But many people develop it without excessive alcohol use. This is called non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

What are the symptoms of non-alcohol related fatty liver disease?

People typically don’t experience symptoms until NAFLD progresses to NASH (non-alcohol related steatohepatitis). With NASH, you may begin to have symptoms of inflammation, such as pain and swelling in your upper right abdomen, where your liver is. But you may not notice symptoms until NASH has progressed to more severe liver damage. NAFLD merely lays the groundwork.

What causes a fatty liver in a non-drinker?

Metabolic syndrome: Non-alcohol related fatty liver disease seems to be linked to a group of related metabolic disorders involving high BMI, high blood lipid levels, high blood pressure and diabetes. These factors seem to influence each other and lead to collective changes in how your body metabolizes nutrients and stores fats.

Diet and nutritional causes: Researchers have also found that a diet high in fructose may increase your risk of developing NAFLD. Fructose is one of the ingredients in common table sugar and is the dominant ingredient in high fructose corn syrup, a common sweetener. It’s highly linked to metabolic syndrome.

Genetics: Certain genes may make you more likely to develop NAFLD. This may help explain why some people get it without any of the other common risk factors. It may also help explain why people of certain races seem to get it more often.

Management and Treatment

While there’s no medicine yet to reverse fatty liver disease, diet and lifestyle changes can help. Many people find that they can slow, stop and even reverse the fat accumulation in their liver by managing metabolic factors such as weight, cholesterol (and other blood lipids), blood pressure and blood sugar. However, once NASH progresses to cirrhosis of the liver, the damage becomes more permanent.

Healthcare providers recommend losing at least 3% to 5% of your body weight to begin to see results in your liver. (Current research suggests that even 1% weight loss may improve outcomes.) They also recommend that you aim to lose no more than 1 to 2 pounds per week. Rapid weight loss can make NAFLD worse. Take your time with a conservative diet and exercise program.