As opposed to what we knew before, drinking alcohol is not the only reason for a fatty liver. In fact, it has become a growing menace with people suffering from metabolic syndrome (pre diabetic) and obesity.
What is a fatty liver?
Fatty liver is a reversible condition where fat accumulates in liver cells. The type of fatty liver associated with obesity is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). The term non-alcoholic is used because liver disease due to alcohol can show the same spectrum of liver disease as NAFLD.
Reasons for developing a fatty liver
NAFLD is observed mainly in developed countries where a sedentary lifestyle and high calories, sugar and fat intake lead to a high prevalence of obesity, insulin resistance and diabetes. A fatty liver is itself quite harmless, disappears rapidly with loss of weight and infrequently progresses to NAFLD.
Correlation between a fatty liver and obesity
Individuals who are overweight are more likely to develop diabetes. People who have diabetes or "pre-diabetes" (when blood sugar levels are higher than normal, but not yet in the diabetic range) are more likely to have a fatty liver disease than people without these conditions.
A simple fatty liver does not require any treatment, since it does not result in damage to liver cells or clinical disease. Obese patients with a fatty liver will reduce excess fat in liver cells, as well as in other cells in the body, if substantial weight loss can be achieved. Good control of diabetes mellitus with diet, drugs or insulin also decreases the fat content in the liver.
Signs and symptoms of NAFLD
Symptoms largely depend on the stage of the condition. During the early or middle stages of the disease, patients typically have no symptoms directly related to liver disease. In advanced stages of the disease, patients may experience fatigue, memory loss or confusion, fluid retention in the abdomen or legs, varices (bleeding from veins in the esophagus ), or the passage of black stool, which suggests internal bleeding.
Treatment for a fatty liver
The single most effective treatment for obese people with NAFLD is to simply lose weight through diet and exercise. Losing excess weight is the key to the treatment of NAFLD. But our sedentary lifestyle, further complicated by high-calorie, high-carbohydrate, high-fat diets, makes it difficult to achieve weight loss.
Also, it can be largely prevented and eliminated by promoting healthy eating habits.
Include the following foods in your diet
Fibre: Whole cereal grains (wheat, ragi, barley, jowar) or breakfast cereals (oats, plain unflavoured muesli, wheat flakes, wheat bran).
Dairy products: Replace whole milk with skimmed milk and low fat milk products.
Protein: Foods rich in proteins like egg whites, white meat (chicken, fish), pulses and sprouts. Also nuts which are rich in omega 3, such as almonds, walnuts and flaxseed.
Fibrous fruits and vegetables: Such as apple, orange, sweetlime, papaya, pomegranate, guava, pear, and dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, cabbage, radish, spring onions.
The following are some suggestions for preventing fatty liver disease:
Always opt for gradual weight-loss, equally focussing on maintaining it.
Make sure that you consume a diet which is low in saturated fats and high in fibre.
Exercise at least four times a week. Include what you might enjoy doing, such as walking, swimming, gardening, stretching.
A healthy life style may prevent obesity, which is the prime reason for fatty liver disease. These are comprehensive guidelines to help you take charge of your own health.
Avoid the following foods in your diet:
Foods with High glycemic index: Like white bread, white rice, sugar, fruits like banana, mango, grapes, chikoo, custard apple, roots and tubers like yam, arbi, potato.
Foods rich in fat: Like butter, ghee, margarine.
Foods high in cholesterol: Like egg yolks, red meat, shrimps, prawns, liver, cheese, processed meats.
Junk food: Carbonated drinks, fried food or fast food like burgers, pizzas.
Dr Anjali Mukerjee is a nutritionist and founder of Health Total, a nutrition counselling centre.
Email your health queries to email@example.com