What do you know about the liver? You have probably heard it is the only organ that can regenerate. But did you know the liver is one of the most vital organs in the body, and without it, you would not be able to live? The liver carries out several functions to keep us alive every day. It stores and releases energy, helps maintain blood sugar, detoxifies the blood, and assists with digestion. When the liver can’t function well, these jobs don’t get done, and you can become sick. Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is one condition that can prevent your liver from doing its job.
What is Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)?
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) occurs when the liver and its cells become filled with fat. This fat takes up the space within the liver cells and prevents them from carrying out their normal functions. The liver can become damaged when this happens, causing scarring (fibrosis) and, eventually cirrhosis. Cirrhosis can cause liver failure or liver cancer when it progresses.
How does one get NAFLD in the first place?
Persons with obesity, prediabetes, Type II diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol risk developing NAFLD. In most of these conditions, excess fat stores in your body constantly release fatty acids. These fatty acids travel in the bloodstream to your liver and get taken up. Diets high in starch and carbohydrates can also cause NAFLD because these get broken down into fats in our bodies and stored. This increase in fat stores in the body causes a further rise in fat circulating in the bloodstream, causing the liver to uptake more and more fats. When the liver begins storing the fat, it becomes larger to accommodate the increase in fat. The increase in the size of the liver then causes inflammation, which can cause scarring, leading to cirrhosis. Once the liver becomes cirrhotic, it cannot function normally. It can result in failure, which may require a liver transplant.
NAFLD can be diagnosed using ultrasound or labs done with blood tests. A liver biopsy may also help your doctor determine your liver disease’s severity.
Treating NAFLD with Lifestyle modifications:
Being diagnosed with NAFLD may seem intimidating, but lifestyle modifications can significantly improve your liver health. By incorporating regular exercise, changing your diet, and enhancing weight loss, you can substantially impact the fatty acid load your liver has to handle. By decreasing the level of fatty acids circulating, your liver cells will not get filled with fats and can carry out their normal functions. Think of it like this, with all the extra items (fats) being stored in their space (within the liver cells), there isn’t much room for them to do their job. It is too cramped! By making some room in the cells and getting rid of excess fatty acids, the cells can return to doing their jobs. Think of it as Spring Cleaning for your liver cells! Losing 5-10% of your body weight can potentially reverse the effects of NAFLD. It will also help your liver work more efficiently if you avoid drinking alcohol with NAFLD. Remember, one of the functions of the liver is to help detoxify your blood, including breaking down and processing alcohol. If your liver is already overworked and cramped by dealing with the excess fat in its cells, adding alcohol gives the liver more work.
Your doctor may also prescribe some medication to help you manage your NAFLD.
No matter where you are in your NAFLD journey, you may find these steps and recipe suggestions beneficial to your health. Today is the perfect day to start making improvements!
5 Lifestyle changes to improve your liver health and combat NAFLD
Adapting to these lifestyle changes can help your liver cells get back to work and potentially reverse your NAFLD!
1 Exercising 30 minutes per day!
Go for a walk, a swim, or whatever gets you moving!
Start slow and work your way up to more intense exercise. Remember, this is a lifestyle change, not a magic fix! Speak to your healthcare provider about exercise and weight loss goals
2 Eat more fruits and vegetables!
Aim for fruits and veggies low in starch
Try to have half your plate filled with fruits and veggies! The more colors, the better!
3 Try to drink mostly water!
Avoid sweetened or sugary beverages like juice, sodas, and sweet tea.
4 Limit the use of butter and trans fats!
Choose olive oil or canola oil instead, or try to minimize oil use by utilizing other cooking methods such as boiling, roasting, or even air frying
5 Eat more lean proteins like poultry, fish, beans, and nuts!
Avoid cold cuts, red meats, and processed meats
Breakfast: Blueberry Oats
1⁄2 cup steel-cut oats
1 cup water (may substitute almond milk)
Combine oats and water in a small pot and boil until cooked, Stirring occasionally
Once cooked, serve in a bowl and add blueberries
*Other toppings may be used, including – 1⁄4 cup of other berries, 1⁄2 banana, 1⁄4 cup nuts (walnut, almond, pecans)
Lunch: Avocado Quinoa Power Salad * Adapted from Tasty.com
1/3 cup water
Salt to taste
1/8 cup rinsed quinoa
1/3 cup fresh spinach roughly chopped 1/8 large cucumber diced
2/3 diced Roma tomato
1/3 ripe avocado, pits removed and diced 1/8 lemon, juiced
2/3 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil Pepper to taste
In a small saucepan, bring water and a pinch of salt to boil. Add quinoa, cover, and simmer for 15 minutes or until water is absorbed.
Transfer to a medium bowl and cool to room temperature, then fluff the quinoa.
Refrigerate quinoa for 20 minutes
Add spinach, cucumber, tomatoes, and avocado to the bowl of quinoa and mix to combine
Add the lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and mix well
Dinner: Salmon and Steamed Vegetables * Adapted from Tasty.com
2 cups broccoli florets
2 cups sliced carrots
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 boneless salmon filet Kosher salt
Fresh ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 400°F
Lightly season salmon filets with salt and pepper Combine broccoli, carrots and olive oil, two pinches of salt and pepper on a baking sheet Mix thoroughly to ensure vegetables are coated well
Lay the two salmon filets atop the vegetables Bake for 12 minutes
1⁄4 cup mixed nuts ( almonds, cashews, pecans, walnuts)
Small apple with nut butter ( try to avoid peanut butter with trans fats)
The following sources were referenced in the creation of this blog post
1. Carstenson Joslyn, Balakrishnan Maya, Gaba Ruchi. A guide to what and how to eat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. BCM.edu Web site. Carstenson, Joslyn, et al. “Welcome to Baylor College of Medicine | BCM.” BCM.edu A Guide to What and How to Eat Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, Baylor College of Medicine, https://www.bcm.edu/sites/default/files/a-guide-to-what-and-how-to-eat-non-alcoholic-fatty-liver-disease.pdf. Accessed Septemeber 8, 2022.
2. Semmler G, Datz C, Reiberger T, Trauner M. Diet and exercise in NAFLD/NASH: Beyond the obvious. Liver Int. 2021;41(10):2249-2268. doi:10.1111/liv.15024
3. Gao Y, Zhang W, Zeng LQ, et al. Exercise and dietary intervention ameliorate high-fat diet-induced NAFLD and liver aging by inducing lipophagy. Redox Biol. 2020;36:101635. doi:10.1016/j.redox.2020.101635