Fatty liver disease means that the liver is storing too much fat. It’s extremely common in individuals who abuse alcohol, but it is becoming more and more common in individuals who don’t drink alcohol, but are overweight or obese. Excess calories are stored as fat throughout the body, and although the liver is not meant to store large amounts of fat, all too often, it ends up there too.
Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) rarely has symptoms, but it’s usually accompanied by a diagnosis of obesity, diabetes or prediabetes, as well as elevated cholesterol and triglycerides. Often it’s suspected when blood work reveals elevated liver function tests, and sometimes, an enlarged liver and fatigue. If it progresses, and it’s left untreated, NAFLD puts individuals at risk for cirrhosis and liver damage.
There is presently no effective medication treatment for NAFLD, but exercise, weight loss, and a healthier diet that is low in fat and refined sugar has been shown to stop or reverse it. In addition, recent research suggests that coffee and tea consumption might help to prevent and protect against the progression of NAFLD. Research is preliminary, and not yet tested on humans, but researchers from Duke University observed that caffeine stimulated the metabolism of fats stored in the liver, and decreased the fatty livers of mice that were fed a high fat diet. The findings suggest that consuming the equivalent of four cups of coffee or tea a day may help to protect and prevent the progression of fatty liver disease. Research could lead to the development of caffeine-like drugs that don't have the side effects of drinking all of that coffee, but retain the therapeutic effects of caffeine.
If you’ve been diagnosed with NAFLD, or if you are at risk (overweight or obese with insulin resistance or diabetes, and high cholesterol or triglycerides), work on the following changes:
- Eat fewer high fat foods like beef, sausage, bacon, cold cuts, cheese, ice cream and butter, as well as any fried foods.
- Eat more high fiber foods like fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
- Lose at least ten percent of your body weight at a rate of one to two pounds per week.
- Limit alcoholic beverages and high sugar foods.
- Exercise for at least 30-45 minutes most days of the week to improve insulin sensitivity.
- Substitute coffee or tea (black or with low fat milk only) for a sugary beverage