Those combining the wisdom of nutrition and pharmaceuticals are making inroads into preventing and reversing fatty liver disease.
Experts estimate that approximately one quarter of American adults has a fatty liver, a growing medical problem devoid of a pharmaceutical solution. Unfortunately, the health implications of a fatty liver that has been ignored for too long can escalate to advanced liver disease. Lifestyle modifications reign as the first line of defense to prevent against a fatty liver and even to reverse it in its earliest stages. Regrettably, lifestyle modifications are not always enough to help those with excessive fat in their liver. To aid in recovering from a fatty liver, many turn to nutraceuticals, or herbal supplements. The past decade has produced compelling research demonstrating that several types of nutraceuticals are capable of doing what pharmaceuticals can’t – improving the outlook of fatty liver disease.
Possibly a consequence of a population that is predominantly sedentary and consumes packaged, convenient foods, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is an increasingly common condition. What can happen when fat accumulates in the liver’s cells, NAFLD is capable of causing inflammation and scarring in the liver – possibly leading to liver failure or cirrhosis. Often occurring in people who are overweight or obese, fatty liver has been linked to diabetes, high levels of undesirable blood fats and insulin resistance.
There is currently no medically approved treatment for NAFLD. Instead, practitioners typically advise patients at risk to lose excessive weight and lower blood fat levels via any physician-prescribed medications and adherence to strict diet and exercise regimens. In addition, experts tout the following strategies as ways to deter fat from accumulating in liver cells:
• Minimize toxins – Whether encountered in the environment, medications or food supply, toxins can weaken the liver. Besides reducing toxin exposure, substances that assist the flushing of toxins out of the body can help strengthen liver function and prevent local fat accumulation.
• Neutralize free radicals – One of the ways the liver is damaged is via oxidation incurred from free radicals. Many studies have shown that because they neutralize free radicals, antioxidants are a key ally in preventing liver damage.
Unfortunately, living in a toxin-free world devoid of damaging free radicals is not realistic. Thankfully, there are a variety of nutraceuticals that improve the outlook of fatty liver disease by safely aiding in detoxification and free radical neutralization.
A combination of the words “nutrition” and “pharmaceutical,” Stephen DeFelice, MD, founder and chairman of the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine coined the term nutraceuticals in 1989. According to DeFelice, “A nutraceutical is any substance that is a food or a part of a food and provides medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease. Such products may range from isolated nutrients, dietary supplements and specific diets to genetically engineered designer foods, herbal products, and processed foods such as cereals, soups and beverages.”
Frequently referred to as dietary supplements, nutraceuticals that help the liver can include herbs, vitamins, minerals, amino acids and highly purified plant extracts. Although there are dozens of natural substances that have been shown to support liver health, four studies on different nutraceuticals that benefit those with NAFLD are described below:
1. As published in the May 2012 edition of the journal Free Radical and Biology Medicine, Italian researchers investigated the effects on liver function of a nutraceutical combining milk thistle extract with phosphatidylcholine and Vitamin E. They found that patients with NAFLD treated with this combination had improvement in liver enzymes, insulin resistance and liver histology.
2. As published in the Winter 2010 edition of Hepatitis Monthly, Iranian researchers evaluated the role of N-Acetyl Cysteine in fatty liver disease. They found that this amino acid significantly decreased elevated liver enzymes, thus improving liver function in people with NAFLD.
3. As published in the August 2009 edition of the British Journal of Pharmacology, researchers from the UK evaluated curcumin’s ability to inhibit liver damage in NAFLD. They found that curcumin interfered with the activation of cells responsible for damaging the liver. As such, they concluded this herb to be of great therapeutic value in protecting against hepatic fat accumulation.
4. As published in the September 2005 edition of The Turkish Journal of Gastroenterology, Turkish researchers investigated the effects of therapeutic doses of Vitamin E and Vitamin C in those with fatty liver disease. They found that the combination of these two antioxidants normalized previously elevated levels of liver enzymes, thus providing a safe, inexpensive and effective treatment option for those with NAFLD.
Fatty liver disease is quickly becoming one of the most prevalent health concerns of the 21st century, a problem for which there is not yet a medically approved treatment. By adding nutraceuticals such as milk thistle extract, phospatidylcholine, N-Acetyl Cysteine, curcumin and Vitamins C and E to the requisite lifestyle changes, those affected by NAFLD can add some extra insurance to their quest for preventing or reversing the accumulation of fat in their liver.
http://altmedicine.about.com/od/healthconditionsdisease/a/fatty_liver.htm, Fighting Fatty Liver, Cathy Wong, Retrieved June 10, 2012, About.com, 2012.
http://www.ana-jana.org/nut_info_details.cfm?NutInfoID=4, What is a Nutraceutical?, Retrieved June 9, 2012, American Nutraceutical Association, 2012.
20compared%20to%20ursodeoxycholic%20acid%20treatment, Management of fatty liver disease with vitamin E and C compared to ursodeoxycholic acid treatment, ErsÃ¶z G, et al, Retrieved June 9, 2012, The Turkish Journal of Gastroenterology, September 2005.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19681867, Curcumin adds spice to the debate: lipid metabolism in liver disease, Graham A, Retrieved June 8, 2012, British Journal of Pharmacology, August 2009.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22308119, N-acetylcysteine improves liver function in patients with non-alcoholic Fatty liver disease, Khoshbaten M, et al, Retrieved June 8, 2012, Hepatitis Monthly, Winter 2010.
http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22343419, Silybin combined with phosphatidylcholine and vitamin E in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liverdisease: A randomized controlled trial, Loquercio C, et al, Retrieved June 8, 2012, Free Radical Biology and Medicine, May 2012.