According to researchers, the prevalence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (shortly ― NAFLD) reaches 25% on average. And that figure keeps on rising, due to continual growth of prevalence of obesity, type 2 diabetes and other associated health problems. So, in fact, every person should get a clear idea of the nature of this disease, as well as the symptoms, causes and solutions.
What Is NAFLD?
NAFLD is the condition associated with the buildup of fat in the liver. That problem is that this fat may cause scarring processes over some time, which may result in cirrhosis and a decrease in the liver function. The term NAFLD is applied only when this health problem is not related to alcohol abuse.
One of the most crucial problems associated with this disease is absence of symptoms. In other words, a person may feel healthy enough and have no perceptible liver problems, but still suffer from NAFLD. In such cases, the disease is usually diagnosed, when a patient undergoes a preventive medical examination. This problem can be discovered with the help of a complete blood count, a liver function test, an abdominal ultrasound scan and some other kinds of examinations. In many cases, a doctor may suspect the problem, for example, due to the presence of some risk factors, and ask a patient to undergo an examination.
In those cases, when the disease manifests itself, a person may notice the following symptoms:
- pains located in the upper right side of the abdomen;
- feeling fatigue on a frequent or constant basis;
- yellowing of the eyes and the skin;
- swelling in the belly.
Unfortunately, as of now, specialists have not managed to determine and thoroughly study the reasons for this condition.
Still, it is known that there is a range of risk factors that may contribute to development of the problem:
- overweight (especially if a patient has much fat around the waist);
- type 2 diabetes;
- insulin resistance;
- the increased lipid blood level;
- the metabolic syndrome, which combines diabetes (or insulin resistance), excess body weight, hypertension;
- the age over 50.
However, in many cases, patients suffering from NAFLD are not exposed to any of the risk factors mentioned above.
The Available Solutions
To start with, one should note that in most cases NAFLD can be taken under control (or even reversed) by getting rid of risk factors, namely excess body weight and bad habits.
Here are the most frequent recommendations provided by specialists:
- To normalize the body weight. Overweight is a crucial risk factor, so, returning to the healthy weight is a must. Experts claim that losing 10% of the weight can help to significantly decrease the amount of fat accumulated in the liver. Still, even if one loses 3% or 5%, that will also make a difference.
- To stick to the healthy diet. It is advisable to eat more fruit, vegetables, whole grains, protein, carbohydrates. At the same time, it is also crucial to minimize the amount of salt, sugar and unhealthy fats. A good variant is to switch to the Mediterranean diet. Certainly, that will help a patient to get rid of excess weight as well.
- To exercise more. The minimum is 30 minutes of moderate activity per a day. That can be cycling and even walking. Even if that will not help one to lose weight, that will make a positive impact on the state of the liver in any case.
- To refuse from smoking and drinking alcohol. NAFLD is not related to alcohol consumption, still, avoiding that unhealthy habit will improve the situation.
- Not to mix medications and alcohol. In many cases, it is dangerous to combine medicines with alcohol, so discussing that issue with a doctor when being prescribed medicines is a good idea.
- To avoid taking medications that are toxic to the liver (if possible). Have a discussion with a doctor and find out whether medicines prescribed to you are safe for the liver. Also, ask the specialist about the safety of herbal supplements and other non-prescription products that you use. It may sound surprising, but even usual medications for treating a cold can be toxic if taken improperly.
- To get vaccinated against hepatitis A and B. If a patient suffers from NAFLD, it is crucial to eliminate the risk of any concomitant liver problems.
Following the tips above can also help healthy people to prevent the development of the condition.
Sure, if one suffers from this disease, undergoing medical examinations, including cholesterol and glucose blood tests, on a regular basis is a must. At an early stage, this condition is not likely to lead to serious health consequences, but it requires constant health monitoring.
Currently, there are no officially approved medications for treating NAFLD, this problem requires further research. But many experts consider vitamin E to be a treatment option with huge potential. This vitamin (as well as other antioxidants) can improve the situation by reducing or eliminating the damage associated with the inflammation related to this liver problem. Still, there are some risks connected with the use of vitamin E, that is why this method has not been approved yet.
Besides, if a patient has concurrent health problems, like type 2 diabetes, obesity or others, managing them also helps to normalize the situation.
Here are some of the drugs that are frequently prescribed to patients with NAFLD:
- First of all, this medication helps to manage type 2 diabetes and to decrease the blood glucose level by decreasing the amount of sugar released by the liver and increasing the sensitivity of the fat cells to insulin. Also, according to results of researches, this drug can help to reduce the amount of the liver fat by more than 50% and to decrease the inflammation in the liver.
- This is another remedy for type 2 diabetes. It helps to decrease the level of blood sugar by restoring the sensitivity of the organism to insulin.
- This is the product intended at dissolving certain kinds of gallstones and at preventing the formation of gallstones in case of a rapid weight loss (which is also a risk factor that can provoke NAFLD).
- This is the medicine for treating obesity. As it has been mentioned above, losing excess weight is one of the most effective solutions to the problem of NAFLD. This drug is applied in combination with a diet and exercises. It works by preventing fats, which are consumed with food, from being broken down and, as a result, absorbed. So, these fats just pass out of the body without being digested. But this medication does not affect absorption of calories from sugar and foods containing no fats. The remedy helps one both to decrease the body weight and to prevent that lost weight from returning. By the way, it can be taken by patients with hypertension, high cholesterol, diabetes or heart problems. Sure, in many cases, normalizing the body weight helps to relieve those concurrent conditions as well.
As you can see, NAFLD is the condition that can be successfully prevented and managed. The main point is to be diagnosed at an early stage and to follow the doctor’s recommendations ― to normalize the body weight, to get enough exercise, to switch to the healthy diet, to take all the medicines prescribed for treating the concurrent health problems and to undergo medical examinations as scheduled.