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You probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how your lifestyle affects your liver.
It’s an important organ. We need our liver to filter waste out of our blood. If our lifestyle leads us to gain too much weight or neglect our exercise routine, our liver can also collect fat inside its cells, either from excess alcohol use or from being overweight or obese.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) can occur when extra fat builds up in a person’s liver cells and the build-up isn’t caused by excess alcohol intake. Livers normally have some fat. When more than 10 percent of the liver’s weight is fat, it’s considered a fatty liver.
You’re more likely to develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease if you’re overweight, obese, have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides. But sometimes people end up with fatty liver disease from poor eating habits or rapid weight loss.
The disease rarely shows symptoms, and is usually first diagnosed when blood tests reveal high levels of liver enzymes.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, also called simple fatty liver, is a common condition, affecting as many as 1 in 5 adults and 1 in 10 children in the United States. In this condition, there isn’t inflammation or liver cell damage.
The condition gets more serious when nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) develops. NASH is a form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease that includes swelling and inflammation of the liver, liver cell damage and fat in the liver. This combination can cause scarring, which could lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis.
You’re more likely to have NASH if you also have type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, high or abnormal levels of triglycerides, metabolic syndrome or are obese.
The potential fix for both simple fatty liver and NASH is:
Your doctor will likely want to treat other risk factors as well, such as high cholesterol and diabetes. Healthy eating, regular exercise and achieving and maintaining a healthy weight will go a long way toward reversing fatty liver disease as well as the associated risk factors.
The Walter Payton Liver Center Outreach Clinic offers convenient consultation services for patients with cirrhosis, complex liver conditions and hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). Learn more.
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