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How to Reverse a Fatty Liver, Say Experts

Doctors reveal how to get a healthy liver

Fatty liver disease is a common condition that's caused by excess fat stored in the liver. In many cases, people don't exhibit signs and it doesn't lead to bigger health issues. But in some, it can lead to liver failure. If you are diagnosed with fatty liver disease, it's important to take it seriously and make lifestyle changes. The good news is you can prevent and reverse fatty liver disease with healthy habits since the liver has an incredible way of repairing itself. Eat This, Not That! Health talked to medical experts who explain what you need to know about a fatty liver. 

Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


What is a Fatty Liver?

doctors appointment physician shows to patient shape of liver with focus on hand with organ

Dr. Ira Jacobson, Chief of Hepatology and professor of medicine at NYU Langone Health explains, "NAFLD (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease) affects an estimated 30 percent of adults in America. Caused by the excess buildup of fat in the liver the condition is closely linked to the rising incidence of obesity and type 2 diabetes. Left unchecked, it can be as damaging as liver cancer and liver  failure, as well as cardiovascular disease." 

Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, MBBS, Ph.D. Professor of Public Health New Mexico State University adds, "It is a fairly common health issue affecting 20-30 percent of adult Americans. Liver helps digest food, remove toxins, and process fat, but when it is overwhelmed, there is fat accumulation."


Why is Fatty Liver Disease Bad?

The doctor examines the patient.

The Cleveland Clinic states, "In most cases, fatty liver disease doesn't cause any serious problems or prevent your liver from functioning normally. But for 7% to 30% of people with the condition, fatty liver disease gets worse over time. It progresses through three stages:

  1. Your liver becomes inflamed (swollen), which damages its tissue. This stage is called steatohepatitis.
  2. Scar tissue forms where your liver is damaged. This process is called fibrosis.
  3. Extensive scar tissue replaces healthy tissue. At this point, you have cirrhosis of the liver."


Symptoms of a Fatty Liver

Young woman suffering from pain on bed

Dr. Khubchandani explains, "Given the high prevalence, it is easy to infer that many cases have no symptoms or history of problems (except when obvious with alcohol use). Lab tests, physical exams, and imaging is needed in a large proportion of cases. Some common symptoms are abdominal pain, weakness, swollen abdomen and legs- if at all one has symptoms."

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Alcohol Related Fatty Liver Disease

Men cheers with glasses of a whiskey soda alcohol cocktail drink

Dr. Khubchandani says, "Fatty liver disease can be of multiple types- e.g. alcoholic or non-alcoholic or pregnancy related). Alcohol related fatty liver disease is easy to diagnose due to alcohol use history. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease may not have definitive causes, but a lot of risk factors. Alcoholic fatty liver may do more harm as people may not easily quit, multiple organ damage may occur with it, and a lot of inflammation occurs in body organs."


Exercise More

Young bearded athlete training outdoor with weighted vest, exercise with military plate carrier

"By simply starting exercise you can reduce the amount of fat in the liver. If you currently don't exercise, start by taking long walks regularly," Jacobson states. "If you exercise, increase your intensity and try to work out 4 days a week for about 45 minutes."


Lose Weight

stepping on scale

Dr. Jacobson says, "Obesity presents additional challenges for patients with fatty liver. If you lose as little as three percent you can decrease the degree of fat deposition in the liver, a 5 percent to 7 percent loss can reduce inflammation, and a 10 percent drop can actually start to reverse scarring."

RELATED: Over 40? Here's How to Lose Abdominal Fat 


Eat Well

woman holding bowl of salad, avocado, grains, beans, and veggies

According to Dr. Jacobson, "Eating a diet high in healthy fats and low in carbohydrates can help reduce the amount of fat in the liver."


Lifestyle Changes


"The major solutions have to be in the form of lifestyle changes in almost everyone having the problem—weight loss, stop alcohol use, exercise, eat healthy and reduce sugar and processed food, add more vegetables and fiber to food," Dr. Khubchandani says. "Above all, treat the underlying conditions or risk factors that could be a wide variety (e.g. diabetes, high blood pressure, steroid use, infections like Hepatitis, alternate therapy if related to medications)."

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How is Fatty Liver Disease Treated?

Health visitor and a senior man during home visit

According to the Cleveland Clinic, "There's no medication specifically for fatty liver disease. Instead, doctors focus on helping you control factors that contribute to the condition. They also recommend making lifestyle changes that can significantly improve your health. Treatment includes:

  • Avoiding alcohol.
  • Losing weight.
  • Taking medications to control diabetes, cholesterol and triglycerides (fat in the blood).
  • Taking vitamin E and thiazolidinediones (drugs used to treat diabetes such as Actos® and Avandia®) in specific instances."

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather