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Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease - Causes, Prevention and Treatment

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Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a condition that affects the liver of individuals who do not consume alcohol. Read the article below to know more about it.

Written by

Dr. Gayathri. N

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Ghulam Fareed

Published At February 2, 2023
Reviewed AtJune 29, 2023

What Is Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?

This term refers to conditions that affect individuals who do not consume alcohol regularly. It denotes a condition in which too much fat is stored in the liver. This condition can sometimes develop into non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), an aggressive fatty liver disease characterized by scarring and liver failure. The damage caused is similar to the damage caused by heavy alcohol usage.

Liver and Its Functions:

The liver is the second largest organ in the human body, present in the abdominal cavity, which is located above the stomach and the intestine. The liver performs various functions, which include the following:

  • Produce bile that helps in the digestion of food.

  • Produce proteins that help blood clot, transport oxygen, and support the immune system.

  • Helps in storing extra nutrients.

  • Helps in clearing harmful substances from the bloodstream.

  • Helps control cholesterol and sugar levels

What Are the Symptoms of Non-alcoholic Liver Disease?

This disease usually does not cause any symptoms, but when it does, it includes the following:

  • Fatigue.

  • Pain or discomfort in the upper right abdomen.

If the situation gets worse, it causes non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, which causes the following symptoms :

  • Abdominal swelling.

  • Enlarged blood vessels are present beneath the surface of the skin.

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes).

  • Red palms.

What Are the Causes of Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?

The cause remains unknown as to why some people get fatty liver. However, the possible factors that could be causing fatty liver are as follows:

  • Obesity or overweight.

  • Insulin resistance is present in which the cells do not take up sugar despite the insulin hormone responsible for it.

  • High level of sugar (hyperglycemia), which indicates prediabetes or type 2 diabetes.

  • High level of fat present.

This combination of health issues promotes the occurrence of fatty liver. In some people, this excess fat deposition in the liver acts as a toxin in the liver causing liver inflammation and non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), eventually leading to the buildup of scar tissue in the liver.

What Are the Various Risk Factors Associated With This Disease?

The risk factors include:

  • High cholesterol level.

  • Obesity, especially fat accumulated in the abdominal area.

  • Polycystic ovarian syndrome (a hormonal disorder causing enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges).

  • Sleep apnea (a sleep disorder characterized by starting and stopping breathing).

  • Type 2 diabetes (long-term impairment of how the body regulates and utilizes sugar).

  • Underactive thyroid (a gland situated at the front of the neck just below the Adam's apple).

  • Underactive pituitary gland (a pea-shaped gland situated at the base of the brain).

Who Is Prone to This Condition?

  • People in old age.
  • People with diabetes.

  • People with fat concentrated in the abdomen.

What Are the Complications of Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?

The primary complication of this disease is cirrhosis (late-stage scarring) of the liver. It mainly occurs in response to liver injury. As the liver tries to heal, it causes scarring of the liver tissues and eventually spreads.

If this healing process gets disrupted, it can result in the following:

  • A buildup of fluid in the abdomen.

  • Swelling of veins in the esophagus that can rupture and bleed.

  • Confusion.

  • Drowsiness.

  • Slurred speech.

  • Liver cancer.

  • End-stage liver failure, which means the liver has stopped functioning.

How to Prevent the Risk of Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?

  • Follow a Healthy And Balanced Diet: Choose a healthy diet consisting of plants, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats.

  • Maintain a Healthy Weight: If the individual is overweight or obese, they should reduce the number of calories taken daily.

  • Exercise: Do exercise regularly to prevent fat accumulation in the body. Individuals should aim for at least 30 minutes to lose body weight.

  • Control the Sugar Level: Individuals should monitor their blood sugar level and make sure to keep the sugar level in control.

  • Lower the Cholesterol: A healthy plant-based diet, medications, and exercise can help reduce cholesterol levels.

  • Do Not Often Use Over The Counter Medications: Do not use medications often, and do not use tablets for everything since too many can harm the liver. Do not use herbal products since some of them are harmful.

How Is Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Diagnosed?

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease does not cause symptoms in most cases. It is found when diagnosing other liver conditions.

The tests which are usually taken include:

  • Complete blood count.

  • Liver enzyme and liver function test.

  • Fasting blood sugar level.

  • Test for chronic viral hepatitis.

  • Hemoglobin A1C, showing a stable level of blood sugar.

  • The lipid profile shows the measurement of blood fats, such as cholesterol and triglycerides.

What Imaging Procedures Can Be Carried Out to Diagnose Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?

The imaging procedures used to diagnose non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are as follows:

  • Abdominal Ultrasound: This procedure uses sound waves to see the inside of the abdomen.

  • Computerized Tomography: This technique uses a special type of X-ray to view the inside of the abdomen.

  • Magnetic Resonance Elastography: It is a procedure that combines the use of a magnetic field and computer-generated sound waves to create a visual map called the elastogram that shows stiffness in body tissues.

  • Transient Elastography: This procedure is an enhanced form of ultrasound used to measure the stiffness of the liver. The stiffness of the liver indicates fibrosis or scarring.

  • Biopsy: If other tests are not conclusive, the doctor will take a sample of tissue from the liver. This tissue sample is used to look for signs of inflammation and scarring. This procedure is performed by inserting a needle through the abdominal wall into the liver.

What Are the Various Treatment Options for This Disease?

  • The first line of treatment is losing unnecessary body weight by a combination of maintaining a healthy diet and exercise.

  • Losing 10 % of the body weight is considered an ideal amount that can significantly reduce the symptoms of this disease.

  • The Food and Drug Administration has approved no drugs for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

Conclusion

Thus, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a curable disease. Maintaining a healthy body weight has become a primary factor in treating this disease. Not drinking alcohol can also help the patient to protect the liver. Even though there have been technological advancements, they will only be useful in diagnosing the disease. Treatment solely depends on the patient’s effort to maintain an ideal body weight and consume healthy foods that will protect the body and prevent unnecessary fat accumulation in the liver.

Frequently Asked Questions

1.

How Does a teetotaler Get Fatty Liver?

People with diabetes, high cholesterol, or high triglycerides are more likely to develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease than those who are overweight or obese. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can also be brought on by rapid weight reduction and poor eating habits.

2.

Can One Have Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Without Drinking?

Non-alcohol-related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) results from causes other than excessive alcohol consumption. Other metabolic illnesses, including excessive cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes, frequently coexist with it.

3.

What Are the Common Causes of Fatty Liver?

The common causes of fatty liver disease are being overweight or obese, type 2 diabetes, and metabolic syndromes like high blood pressure, high triglycerides, and high cholesterol.

4.

Which Fruits Are Good for Fatty Liver?

Apples, grapes, and citrus fruits like oranges and lemons should all be included in the diet as they are good for the liver. Consume raw grapes and grape juice to boost the body's antioxidant levels and protect the liver from toxins.

5.

What Are the Ways to Reduce Fatty Liver?

There are different ways to reduce fatty liver. They are:
- Lose weight.
- Be active.
- Lower the cholesterol level.
- Keep liver healthy.
- Eat healthy food.

6.

Can Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver be Reversed?

No treatment can reverse the accumulation of fat in the liver. The damage to the liver occasionally ceases or even reverses. However, in some people, the condition worsens.

7.

Which Foods Are Bad for Fatty Liver?

The foods that are bad for fatty liver are:
- Alcohol.
- Fried foods.
- Red meat.
- Added sugar and salt.
- White bread, pasta, and rice.
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Dr. Ghulam Fareed
Dr. Ghulam Fareed

Medical Gastroenterology

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