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Top 3 Causes of a Fatty Liver


Learn the top three reasons people get a fatty liver and tips to help prevent or reverse it.

Fatty liver disease is quickly becoming an epidemic. According to the American Liver Foundation, about one quarter of American adults currently has nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Experts estimate that more than 40 percent of the adult U.S. population will be affected in just 15 years. Lifestyle choices are often the culprit of putting people into this category. Although genetics may determine who is more susceptible, the top three causes of developing NAFLD are preventable.

Some fat residing in the liver is normal; however, if fat makes up more than 10 percent of this organ’s weight, fatty liver disease might be responsible. There are two main types of fatty liver disease: alcoholic liver disease (ALD) and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Alcoholic Liver Disease

Drinking heavy amounts of alcohol over a long period of time or binge drinking over a short period of time can both cause ALD. The genes people inherit may play a role in ALD by increasing the likeliness of becoming an alcoholic and/or impacting how the body metabolizes alcohol. Alcohol is a direct toxin to the liver and easily causes inflammation and liver cell damage. Either way, abstaining from alcohol is the only solution for alcoholic liver disease and may help prevent its development in those who are vulnerable.

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by a buildup of fat in the liver. Over time, this can cause the liver to swell and incur damage that may lead to cirrhosis, liver cancer, or liver failure.

Although there appear to be a multitude of factors that lead to the development of NAFLD, three causes stand out as the most obvious:

  1. Obesity – According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than one-third of American adults are obese. Again, many factors may contribute to obesity, but it is a natural consequence of ingesting more calories than is burned off. The most effective way to reverse or prevent obesity is by improving the ratio of calories ingested vs. calories burned. This is accomplished via exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet.
  2. Type 2 Diabetes – Approximately 90 percent of all cases of diabetes worldwide are type 2, where the body does not produce enough insulin or the body’s cells do not react to insulin (insulin resistance). According to the CDC, more than 29 million people in the U.S. have diabetes and one in four people don’t know he or she has it. Another 86 million adults – more than one in three U.S. adults – have pre-diabetes, where blood sugar levels are higher than normal. For those who are pre-diabetic, losing weight is imperative to prevent becoming diabetic. Overweight and obese people have a much higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those with a healthy body weight.
  3. High Cholesterol – Involving several measurements of lipids in the bloodstream, high cholesterol affects over a third of American adults. People with high cholesterol have about twice the risk of heart disease as people with lower levels. The body needs some cholesterol, a waxy, fat-like substance. Produced by the liver, high cholesterol can be reduced via regular exercise, eating a healthy diet and not smoking. You can also protect your heart naturally with Natural Wellness’ Cholesterol Support.

Fatty Liver Trio

The combination of health conditions described above – obesity, diabetes and high cholesterol – are extremely common. Unless major changes influence how we eat and move our bodies, those who study health trends believe it won’t be long before half of all Americans fulfill this trio of causes and end up with a fatty liver. We all know that losing excessive weight, dieting and exercising are guaranteed to make us healthier, but accomplishing this feat often seems impossible.

Instead of perceiving the recommended lifestyle changes as repetitive, grueling directives, consider these tips to prevent, reduce or reverse your liver fat accumulation:

    1. Avoid Sugary Beverages – The amount of sugar your body must process from soda, sweetened iced tea, fruit juice and sweetened coffee beverages is tremendous. Switching over to unsweetened drinks will dramatically reduce blood sugar levels and caloric intake. According to research from Imperial College London in the journal Diabetologia, drinking just one can of soda per day raises the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 22 percent.
    2. Balance Screen Time with Active Time – Much of our day is filled with being sedentary; sitting at a desk, watching TV, working on a computer, electronic gaming, etc. Aim for balance between being immobile and mobile by going for a 30-minute walk after watching your favorite television episode or going to a fitness class after a day of seated work.

Achieving a healthy weight by being more active and eating better doesn’t have to be so hard. Aim for making little changes with a big impact such as quitting sugary drinks, consuming a protein snack between meals, and including more physical activity into every day. By improving your blood cholesterol, losing excessive weight and preventing insulin resistance – these changes will reduce the development or progression of NAFLD., Cholesterol Fact Sheet, Retrieved November 22, 2015, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015., Diabetes Latest, Retrieved November 22, 2015, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015., Adult Obesity Facts, Retrieved November 22, 2015, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015., Fatty liver disease (NAFLD, NASH), Retrieved November 22, 2015, WebMD, Inc., 2015., Obesity Causes, Retrieved November 22, 2015, The President and Fellows of Harvard College, 2015., Diabetes: Symptoms, Causes and Treatments, Retrieved November 22, 2015, MediLexicon International, Inc., 2015., Heavy drinking is not the only cause of serious liver trouble, Barbara Sadick, Retrieved November 22, 2015, The Washington Post, 2015., Fatty liver disease, Retrieved November 22, 2015, WebMD, LLC, 2015.

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About the Author

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM, Dipl. Ac. (NCCAOM)®

Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., MTCM is a long time advocate of integrating perspectives on health. With a Bachelor's degree in Neuroscience from the University of Rochester and a Master's degree in Traditional Chinese Medicine from Five Branches Institute, Nicole has been a licensed acupuncturist since 2000. She has gathered acupuncture licenses in the states of California and New York, is a certified specialist with the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association, has earned diplomat status with the National Commission of Chinese and Oriental Medicine in Acupuncture and Chinese Herbology and is a member of the Society for Integrative Oncology. In addition to her acupuncture practice that focuses on stress and pain relief, digestion, immunity and oncology, Nicole contributes to the integration of healthcare by writing articles for professional massage therapists and people living with liver disease.

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