Almost everybody has fat in his or her liver. Some fat is okay. However, fat that contributes more than 5-10% to the liver’s weight is a recognized medical condition called Fatty Liver.
Fatty liver disease is becoming increasingly common in many parts of the world, affecting about 25% of people globally.
It is a natural process for our body to store fat to turn into energy and insulation. The liver is partially made up of fat but when this fat content becomes too high or there is build-up of fat in the liver, you can develop fatty liver disease. For most people, it causes no symptoms and no problems but in some people, the fat damages the liver cells and affects how well the liver works.
There are two main types- alcohol related and non-alcohol related, here we are focusing on the later.
In Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), alcohol is not the cause (surprise!) of fatty liver disease.
Instead the main causes can be:
Pregnancy, due to defective metabolism of fatty acids late in the gestation period
- Diabetes or insulin resistance, high insulin levels have been shown to increase liver fat storage
- Obesity, sugary drinks and an over-consumption of fatty, processed foods can put stress on the liver
- Malnutrition and rapid weight loss.
- Some medicines
NAFLD is progressive, and initially symptom-less meaning that it is normally detected through blood tests. Although vague symptoms such as tiredness or general abdominal discomfort may be reported. But large amounts of fat inside the liver cause inflammation in surrounding hepatocytes (liver cells) leading to oxidative stress. If left unheeded, more serious liver diseases, such as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) or cirrhosis, may result.
If fatty liver progresses to NASH the symptoms become more pronounced, such as abdominal pain, nausea and vomiting, loss of appetite and generally feeling unwell. The exact processes leading to NASH are still poorly understood. Baskol, Seckin, and Baskol, in their article published in the Turkish Journal of Gastroenterology, reported significantly elevated markers of oxidative stress in people with NASH.
The authors concluded that antioxidant therapy that helps prevent free radical production, increases internal antioxidant supply, and relieves oxidative stress might represent a treatment option for people with NASH.
So, how do you increase your intake of antioxidants?
While the treatment of fatty liver disease will depend on the cause of the diagnosis, there are some lifestyle changes that can encourage a healthier outcome. Increased exercise, reduction of refined carbs, healthy weight loss and control of insulin levels can all be beneficial. An increased consumption of antioxidants may also be beneficial. Certain foods, herbs and beverages naturally contain high amounts of antioxidants, we have listed our top three.
- Milk thistle- A herb known for it's liver protecting properties. The seeds and leaves of it can be consumed but it is much more effective to take a Milk Thistle extract, particularly in a supplement form, as you can consume a higher dosage and see better results.
- Green tea- Green tea contains high levels of the natural antioxidant catechins.
- Coffee- Containing chlorogenic acid, a potent compound known to have anti-inflammatory properties, coffee can also help protect the body from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. So don't feel guilty about that morning cup!
We always recommend that you consult a doctor, it’s important to follow your doctor’s recommended treatment plan and practice an overall healthy lifestyle.
Liver health and mitochondrial health...what's the relationship?
Inside all of your vital organs are armies of mitochondria - tiny powerhouses that produce energy for your cells to use to operate day to day.
By supporting your mitochondria you are helping them to support your liver health.
Want to learn more about the relationship between your mitochondria and liver health? Download our free guide below.
Reviewed by: Kai Man Yuen/ BSc., PGDipSci., MSc.