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Fatty Liver, How do I Know If I Suffer from It?

Stomach pain and fatigue are not always simply related to a passing discomfort, one bad meal, or lack of sleep. Sometimes, they can be symptoms of something a little more serious, especially if the pain or discomfort happens on the upper right side of the abdomen. This may point to an issue with the liver.

The small, triangular organ is basically in charge of processing the fats we ingest in order to convert them into energy. The liver also helps us metabolize various substances while eliminating toxins. Another task is to help digestion by producing bile. However, there are times when the liver fails to meet this demand and fat begins to accumulate, eventually becoming a toxin. This is referred to as Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease, or NAFLD, and has nothing to do with alcohol consumption.

According to the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), between 30 and 40% of the adult population in the United States suffers from NAFLD. It can occur at any age, even in the first few years of life, although the chances of developing it increase with the passage of time. (1)

What causes a fatty liver?

It is still not known for sure why some livers accumulate fat, or why some go further still and become inflamed and scarred. There are certain factors that facilitate the path, though:

  • Excess weight.

  • Insulin resistance and high blood sugar.

  • Imbalance of lipids such as cholesterol and, above all, triglycerides too high.

  • Certain medications.

  • Autoimmune liver or metabolic diseases.

  • Viral hepatitis.

  • Alcohol (2)

Oftentimes, the person with fatty liver has no symptoms or discomfort. The only way to discover NAFLD is with a blood test showing high liver levels, which should then be confirmed with a biopsy. This is something that commonly occurs in people who suffer from metabolic syndrome, are overweight or obese, and have insulin resistance, diabetes, high lipid levels, or hypertension. (2)

Fatty liver can be:

  • Simple, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

  • Complicated by inflammation, swelling of the abdomen, blood vessels visible through the skin, and jaundice, among other effects. In this moment, fatty liver becomes non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (or NASH). According to experts, 20% of people with fatty liver reach this point.

  • Further complicated when the inflammation becomes so intense that the liver fails to stop it and fibrosis or scarring occurs, which triggers cirrhosis. If not stopped in time, this complication can lead to liver cancer or end-stage liver failure, where the organ simply stops working. (1)

Is there treatment for fatty liver?

There are some medications that help keep lipids under control, as well as some that assist with insulin management and help decrease overall inflammation within the body, which is also key. Another important aspect of fatty liver treatment is to work on weight loss, including diet, physical activity, use of medications, and even surgery if necessary. (2)

How to avoid it?

The same recommendations as for other fundamental aspects of good health:
  • Eat healthy and nutritious, avoid weight gain, and stay active. (3)

  • Consume healthy fats, such as vegetable fats, in moderation and following the guidelines of your health specialist.

It is important to ask your doctor about your liver levels in your annual routine exams, especially if you have a metabolic syndrome disease. In the meantime, reinforce your preventive care to keep this - and any other health problems - at bay.

Let's get healthier together,

Your Santo Remedio Team

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