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.
What Is Non-Alcoholic 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:
- high levels of undesirable blood fats
- and insulin resistance.
There is currently no medically approved treatment for NAFLD. However, it was reported earlier in 2022 that kisspeptin (a naturally occurring hormone), is being studied for the possible treatment of 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.
Strategies to Reduce Fat Accumulation
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.
Nutraceuticals for Liver Health
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:
- amino acids
- and highly purified plant extracts.
5 Studies on Nutraceuticals that Help Fight a Fatty Liver
Although there are dozens of natural substances that have been shown to support liver health, five studies on different nutraceuticals that benefit those with NAFLD are described below.
1. Milk Thistle Extract with Phosphatidylcholine and Vitamin E
In 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. N-Acetyl Cysteine (NAC)
In 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.
In a special issue of Antioxidants, a 2020 published review of evidence specific to the use of N-Acetyl Cysteine in the treatment of NAFLD stated, “NAC blocks hepatic lipid accumulation in preclinical models of NAFLD. This is in part through the effective regulation of a fatty acid scavenger molecule (CD36) and transcriptional factors such as sterol regulatory element-binding protein (SREBP)-1c/-2 and peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor gamma (PPARγ). Importantly, NAC appears effective in improving liver function by reducing pro-inflammatory markers such as interleukin (IL)-6 IL-1β, tumour necrosis factor alpha (TNF-α) and nuclear factor kappa-light-chain-enhancer of activated B cells (NF-κB). This was primarily through the attenuation of lipid peroxidation and enhancements in intracellular response antioxidants, particularly glutathione.”
A 2021 randomized, double-blind placebo controlled study showed that daily consumption of turmeric supplementation could be effective in managing NAFLD and decreasing serum level of liver transaminases.
Turmeric can help protect your liver from excessive fat. In LiverSupport.com’s article, Turmeric Eases Stress and Reduces Liver Fat, it was noted that: “According to a study published in the April 2011 issue of the Journal of Food Science, turmeric supplementation helps prevent high cholesterol levels in the blood and reduces the risk of fatty liver disease by regulating the enzymes responsible for cholesterol metabolism.”
4. Vitamin E and Vitamin C
As published in 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.
5. Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA)
According to LiverSupport.com’s article, Three Studies Finding Alpha-Lipoic Acid Helps a Fatty Liver, it was reported that: “researchers found profound antioxidant benefits of ALA. Their research focused on oxidative stress in the spleen; however, they concluded that ALA was an ideal supplement to prevent oxidative stress in those who consume a high-fat diet. Since a high-fat diet is a major predictor of NAFLD development, this study can be extrapolated and applied to helping prevent oxidative damage in the liver.”
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, Alpha Lipoic Acid, 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.
Bull, Esther, et al. “What Is a Nutraceutical?” The Pharmaceutical Journal, 22 Mar. 2021, https://pharmaceutical-journal.com/article/ld/1-what-is-a-nutraceutical.
Dludla PV, Nkambule BB, Mazibuko-Mbeje SE, Nyambuya TM, Marcheggiani F, Cirilli I, Ziqubu K, Shabalala SC, Johnson R, Louw J, Damiani E, Tiano L. N-Acetyl Cysteine Targets Hepatic Lipid Accumulation to Curb Oxidative Stress and Inflammation in NAFLD: A Comprehensive Analysis of the Literature. Antioxidants. 2020; 9(12):1283. https://doi.org/10.3390/antiox9121283
Ersöz G, Günşar F, Karasu Z, Akay S, Batur Y, Akarca US. Management of fatty liver disease with vitamin E and C compared to ursodeoxycholic acid treatment. Turk J Gastroenterol. 2005 Sep;16(3):124-8. PMID: 16245220, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/16245220/.
Graham, Annette. “Curcumin Adds Spice to the Debate: Lipid Metabolism in Liver Disease.” British Journal of Pharmacology, vol. 157, no. 8, 29 July 2009, pp. 1352–1353., https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1476-5381.2009.00335.x.
Jarhahzadeh, M., Alavinejad, P., Farsi, F. et al. The effect of turmeric on lipid profile, malondialdehyde, liver echogenicity and enzymes among patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: a randomized double blind clinical trial. Diabetol Metab Syndr 13, 112 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13098-021-00731-7
Khoshbaten, Manouchehr et al. “N-acetylcysteine improves liver function in patients with non-alcoholic Fatty liver disease.” Hepatitis monthly vol. 10,1 (2010): 12-6., https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3270338/.
Loguercio, Carmela et al. “Silybin combined with phosphatidylcholine and vitamin E in patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: a randomized controlled trial.” Free radical biology & medicine vol. 52,9 (2012): 1658-65. doi:10.1016/j.freeradbiomed.2012.02.008, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0891584912000858?via%3Dihub.
Wong, Cathy. “8 Simple Fatty Liver Prevention Solutions You Should Know.” Verywell Health, 17 Dec. 2021, https://www.verywellhealth.com/natural-remedies-for-fatty-liver-prevention-89276.