Today we’re here to talk about NAFLD. Aside from sounding like a slimy toy they might sell on Nickolodeon, NAFLD is an acronym for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition that affects over 100 million people in the United States alone.
Yes, that’s a high number. And it certainly isn’t encouraging from a health standpoint, seeing as how over 1 in 4 people have it. But the icing on this sour cake is that due to how common NAFLD is, major progress has been made in the understanding and treatment of the disease.
What is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?
If you’ve ever looked into how alcohol affects the body, particularly the liver, then you might be aware of how alcohol inflames and fattens the cells in the liver. Eventually, the liver can become so inflamed that it becomes impaired, a condition that affects many lifelong hard drinkers.
But the condition can also impact those who don’t drink heavily. When more than 10% of the liver’s total weight is comprised of fat, this constitutes NAFLD. Livers with an even higher fat percentage is known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, and this is where it really gets bad — the more severe version can lead to severe liver swelling and damage.
The most common misunderstanding about NAFLD is that it’s an all-encompassing and separate disease. NAFLD actually refers to a number of liver diseases that stem from overtly high levels of fat storage in the liver — if your doctor has mentioned chronic liver disease, odds are high that NAFLD is the culprit.
What causes non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?
Among the leading causes of NAFLD is obesity. When a person has excess fat throughout the body, it’s no surprise that some of that ends up in the liver. In less common scenarios, high triglycerides in the blood can also lead to the disease. Those with type-2 diabetes or prediabetes are at a higher risk than the general population.
The disease is tricky because there aren’t many noticeable symptoms, especially if you aren’t sure exactly what you’re looking for. The one thing you can be on the lookout for is pain or swelling pushing on the upper right abdomen.
It’s not just a disease for adults
NAFLD is, in fact, the most common liver ailment affecting children. It is thought that at least five million, and as many as eight million kids in the United States have the disorder, as a result of anything from a poor diet to genetic hand-me-downs. Kids, in most cases, can treat the disorder with lifestyle changes including a healthier diet.
How can you stave off the effects of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?
If your doctor has brought up liver disease to you, it’s very important that you follow his or her recommendations. Under your own guidance, however, there are several things you can do to help your liver get back to health. First, assess the amount of Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. Are you eating foods that are high in Omega-3s, such as salmon, olive oil, and spinach?
If not, one of the first things you can do is add an Omega-3 supplement to your diet, such as GLX3. Omega-3 fatty acids are known to quell the swelling within the liver, as well as in the joints, and can help the liver function at a higher level. With time, proper levels of Omega-3 fatty acids can have a lasting impact on inflammation throughout the body.
The next action point is the ole’ standby, diet and exercise. A diet consisting mostly of fresh fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and healthy fats can reduce inflammation in the liver. We ran down several great meal ideas on our blog recently, aiming to help those looking to ramp up a healthy lifestyle.
On the exercise front, 30 minutes per day of physical activity — or as much as you can handle — helps your blood flow and keeps your body used to action. This, along with a healthy diet, helps to detoxify the liver. With time, swelling and pain can subside and long-term damage like cirrhosis can be avoided.
Thinking big picture
Health is a long-term game. This is as true in the liver as anywhere else in the body, and as true for established adults as it is for schoolchildren. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle, one that reduces the likelihood of permanent liver damage and cirrhosis, takes proper planning. Consult with your doctor and ask about the following:
- Dietary steps. What foods should you be eating, based on your blood type? What should be avoided? And what meal planning advice does the doc have for healthy home-cooked meals?
- Exercise regimen. Based on your age, fitness level, and dexterity, develop an attainable fitness routine. This can be as simple as walking around the block in the morning or involve heavier exercise such as bike riding or swimming.
- Recommended supplements. As we mentioned above, adding an Omega-3 supplement to your diet can help offset inflammation and help the organs in your body function properly.