The Hidden Epidemic: Fatty Liver Disease and How to Fix It

Fatty liver disease, also known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), is a growing yet often undiagnosed condition affecting over 90 million Americans. It is a major risk factor for many serious diseases including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and dementia. The main cause of fatty liver disease is excess sugar consumption, especially from high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Here’s what you need to know about this preventable and reversible condition.

What Causes Fatty Liver Disease?

The liver’s normal function is to process nutrients and remove toxins from the body. However, when we eat too much sugar and starch, the liver gets overwhelmed trying to metabolize it all. The excess carbohydrates get converted to fat, which then builds up in liver cells. This fat causes inflammation and impairs the liver’s ability to function properly.

Fructose, a type of sugar found in HFCS, is especially harmful. Unlike other sugars, fructose gets metabolized differently in the liver and goes straight to fat production. HFCS often contains a higher ratio of fructose to glucose compared to regular sugars. Free fructose from HFCS floods the liver unlike fructose naturally bound with fiber in fruit. This makes HFCS consumption a primary contributor to fatty liver disease.

How to Know If You Have It

Fatty liver is often asymptomatic so many people have no idea they have it. Specific blood tests like AST, ALT and GGT can reveal liver impairment, though they may still appear normal even with significant fatty liver. More sensitive diagnostic tests include:

  • Liver ultrasound (fibroscan) to visualize fat deposits
  • MRI to quantify liver fat percentage – should be <2%
  • Cardio IQ or NMR lipid test for abnormal cholesterol

If you have any excess belly fat or eat a diet high in sugar/starch/HFCS, get tested to screen for fatty liver.

Dangers and Complications

Fatty liver leads to inflammation, impaired detoxification, abnormal cholesterol, high triglycerides, insulin resistance and metabolic problems. This cascades into major diseases like:

  • Heart disease and strokes
  • Type 2 diabetes and prediabetes
  • Cancer
  • Dementia
  • Liver failure requiring transplant (seen now even in children after years of heavy soda consumption)

Genetics can also play a role, with higher risk seen in certain ethnic groups like Latin Americans. Fatty liver must be addressed to avoid dangerous long-term consequences.

Dietary Changes to Improve Fatty Liver

The most crucial change is eliminating all sources of HFCS. Read labels carefully and do not consume anything containing it. Next, greatly reduce added sugars, refined carbs, processed foods and starchy items like bread, pasta and baked goods. Consider starchy foods more of an occasional treat than a dietary staple.

Increase healthy fats like olive oil, avocados, nuts, seeds and omega-3s from fish. Lean proteins like chicken, fish, eggs and plant proteins are also beneficial. Stay well hydrated with water and herbal teas. Manage calories to achieve or maintain a healthy body weight.

Foods and Supplements that Help Heal the Liver

  • Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, kale, arugula, radish, Brussels sprouts – high in detoxifying sulfur compounds
  • Herbs and spices like turmeric, rosemary, cilantro, parsley, garlic, onion
  • Green drinks with greens powder or fresh juiced vegetables
  • Lean proteins like chicken, fish, eggs, legumes
  • Nuts and seeds high in healthy fats
  • Olive oil and other healthy plant oils
  • Green tea and herbal teas

Key supplements:

  • Milk thistle
  • NAC (N-acetylcysteine) – glutathione precursor
  • Alpha lipoic acid – antioxidant
  • B vitamins, zinc, selenium, magnesium

The Takeaway on Fatty Liver Disease

The excessive fructose and starch consumption driving the current fatty liver epidemic is largely preventable through education and lifestyle changes. Check your own liver health and avoid the biggest dietary culprits. Incorporate more fresh whole foods into your diet and take targeted supplements. With the right dietary and lifestyle habits, fatty liver can be reversed to restore your health.

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