How do you get people to care about a disease with no symptoms? That’s the challenge for doctors worried about non-alcoholic fatty liver disease which can lead to liver cancer and liver failure – often with little warning.
And according to research, by the year 2020, more people will have liver cirrhosis caused by non-alcoholic fatty liver disease than with hepatitis C and hepatitis B combined. The Gastroenterological Society of Australia estimates that translates to more than 7 million Australians by 2030. Around 400,000 people with liver cirrhosis that could be avoided.
As the name implies, the main characteristic of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is too much fat stored in liver cells affecting people who drink little to no alcohol. This condition is also closely linked to metabolic syndrome - a cluster of abnormalities including increased abdominal fat, poor ability to use the hormone insulin, high blood pressure and high blood levels of triglycerides, (a type of fat).
The bad news is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease usually causes no signs and symptoms. When it does, they may include an enlarged liver, and/or fatigue and pain in the upper right abdomen.
Experts know the disease is linked to being overweight or obese, having insulin resistance, high blood sugar and a high level of fats in the blood but don’t know exactly why some people accumulate fat in the liver while others do not. Similarly, there is limited understanding of why some fatty livers develop inflammation that progresses to cirrhosis. These people also have a threefold risk of type 2 diabetes and double the risk of heart disease.
So how can you reverse or reduce it? The only way is by eating healthier food and losing weight around your middle. Researchers also found evidence that fasting might improve fatty liver disease. A study of patients at Monash Medical Centre found that restricting eating (but not kilojoules) to just an eight-hour period between noon and 8pm improved markers of fatty liver disease and reduced abdominal fat.
Try also avoiding sugar, increasing the amount of plant food in your diet, eating a small amount of protein with every meal and avoiding eating large meals.
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