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What Can You Do for a Fatty Liver?

Fatty liver disease can be a warning sign of bigger troubles ahead.  Fortunately, it’s something that can be turned around with diet and lifestyle changes.

By
Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS
4-minute read
Episode #439

Although continuing to lose weight may offer further benefits, you are much better off losing a modest amount of weight and keeping it off than you are losing a large amount of weight and then regaining it.

It’s also important to lose weight gradually, because rapid weight loss can actually make NAFLD temporarily worse.  Fortunately, slow weight loss is easier to achieve and easier to sustain.

Fortunately, slow weight loss is easier to achieve and easier to sustain.

See also: How to Avoid Biggest Loser Syndrome

Reduce your intake of sugar and other refined carbohydrates. Because these foods are rapidly converted to blood sugar, eating a lot of sugar and refined flour can lead to chronically elevated blood sugar levels. This in turn triggers the release of insulin from the pancreas, which works to clear blood sugar out of the bloodstream and into cells.

But if your body is constantly releasing insulin in order to deal with a constant influx of sugar, the cells can become resistant to its effects...sort of the way you start to tune out noise that’s constantly in the background.  

When your cells stop responding to insulin you end up with chronically high blood sugar AND chronically high blood insulin levels and you are well on your way to diabetes (if you’re not there already.)

But all is not lost! By cutting down on sugary, starchy foods, you can lower your blood sugar levels and reduce the amount of insulin your body is calling for. Over time, your cells will start to become more responsive, sort of the way you would be more likely to hear your phone ringing in a quiet house than in a noisy cafe.

In some cases, your doctor may suggest a prescription drug that helps improve insulin sensitivity. This can be useful but doesn’t necessarily have to be a long term solution.

See also: Can you reverse diabetes with diet?

Get your fat from healthy sources. It’s not necessary to go on a low-fat diet but you do want to emphasize foods that are rich in monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil and avocado, and omega-3 fats, found in fish and flaxseed. Saturated fats from meat, dairy, and butter and omega-6 fat from vegetables oils should be in the background.

Ramp up your intake of antioxidant rich foods. Oxidative stress is another feature common to Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver disease, and heart disease. But research on the use of antioxidant supplements in these conditions have shown mixed results. A better strategy is to increase your intake of antioxidants from foods like non-starchy vegetables, mushrooms, fruits, herbs, spices, tea, and coffee.

See also: Can you Get Too Many Antioxidants

The Mediterranean diet pattern tends to promote a healthy balance of fats, a low intake of sugar, and lots of antioxidant rich foods. Not surprisingly, it has been shown to be helpful for those with NAFLD.

See also: The Mediterannean Diet

Exercise in a balanced way.  Regular exercise can help improve your insulin sensitivity which can in turn help reverse NAFLD. But a balance of cardiovascular exercise (such as walking, cycling, jogging) and strength training (with weights, resistance bands or your own body weight) is more effective than simply getting your heart rate up. Try to get some cardiovascular exercise on a daily or near daily basis but be sure to include strength training once or twice a week.

For more tips on putting together a great fitness program, check out the Get Fit Guy podcast.

The Bottom Line

Non alcoholic fatty liver disease, in addition to being a mouthful to say, can be an awfully scary and intimidating diagnosis to receive. But it can also be a warning sign of bigger troubles ahead.

Fortunately, it’s also one of those things that you can turn around by making a commitment to a healthier diet and lifestyle. The liver has an almost miraculous ability to heal itself if we simply give it a bit of a break.

For more information and resources on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, you can visit the American Liver Foundation at liverfoundation.org.

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About the Author

Monica Reinagel, MS, LD/N, CNS

Monica Reinagel is a board-certified licensed nutritionist, author, and the creator of one of iTunes' most highly ranked health and fitness podcasts. Her advice is regularly featured on the TODAY show, Dr. Oz, NPR, and in the nation's leading newspapers, magazines, and websites. Do you have a nutrition question? Call the Nutrition Diva listener line at 443-961-6206. Your question could be featured on the show.