Are You At Risk For NAFLD?
Is your liver healthy? Are you at risk for NAFLD?
The latest data from the National Health and Examination Survey reports 31% of adults in the United States have NAFLD, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. The rate for obese and overweight adults is 80-90%. Those with diabetes have it at a rate of 30-50% while 90% of those with high cholesterol, high triglycerides or both suffer from NAFLD.[i]
Now, if you eat a healthy diet, exercise often and maintain a healthy BMI, you probably have a lower risk. That’s the good news. But does it mean you’re in the clear?
Let’s take a deeper look…
What is NAFLD?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease describes two liver conditions: fat accumulation in the liver and the more serious condition of inflammation and liver damage, a condition called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH. It is a silent disease which means you can have it without showing any symptoms.
If you did have symptoms of NAFLD, here’s what they might be:
Most people discover they have NAFLD after a blood test that shows a high level of liver enzymes. The condition would be confirmed by an ultrasound. Some people do show some signs of the condition. These include fatigue, abdominal pain, nausea, a feeling of weakness, mental confusion and in advanced cases jaundice.
Of course, symptoms like these can apply to a wide variety of conditions. So, what can you do? Know the risk factors and other signs there may be a problem.
Risk Factors for NAFLD
The National Institutes of Health list the following causes for NAFLD[iv]:
- Obesity or being overweight
- Insulin resistance
- High triglycerides
- High LDL or low HDL cholesterol
- Type II Diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome which includes high blood pressure, high blood sugar, a large waist size and the high cholesterol and triglyceride levels
These aren’t the only causes. The NIH also notes less common causes which include “rapid weight loss”, a hepatitis C infection, certain medications, removal of the gall bladder and exposure to some toxins. This last cause perhaps the greatest amount of attention for anyone living a generally healthy lifestyle.
Toxins Linked to Liver Damage and NAFLD
The liver is responsible for more than 300 metabolic processes. Among its many roles, it
- Regulates metabolism
- Is intimately involved in digestion
- Keeps hormones balanced
- Filters toxins from the blood
- And so much more…
Ancient medical traditions like Traditional Chinese Medicine and Ayurveda understood the importance of the liver and associated many symptoms and conditions to a concept of “liver congestion.” For this reason, these traditions offer a variety of botanicals to support, cleanse and detox the liver.
Today, a healthy diet and exercise certainly support a strong liver, but the reality is that it may not be enough. There are some very common environmental pollutants that harm the liver and contribute to NAFLD. Some you can avoid; others you probably can’t.
Toxins you can avoid. Cigarettes, cannabis, and medications like acetaminophen and ibuprofen are known to impair the liver. An impaired liver has a higher risk of developing NAFLD.
Toxins you may not be able to avoid, as easily. For decades organochlorine pesticides were used in agriculture. Now, they’ve been banned since the 1980’s, but they remain in the environment. Even so, today’s glyphosate herbicides (like Monsanto’s Round-up) have been linked to development of fatty liver disease. Research suggests only a low, but chronic exposure to these herbicides is needed to cause NAFLD.[v]
Bread may contain another liver toxin. Many breads in the U.S. contain potassium bromate. It’s used to strengthen flour and make bread rise. Research shows potassium bromate harms the liver.[vi],[vii]
Awareness and selective shopping may be able to help reduce exposure to potassium bromate. As for the glyphosate herbicide, you can buy organic and that will help. But these herbicides can easily find their way into the water supply.
How to Reduce Liver Fat
The NIH notes that people who are overweight or obese can reduce liver fat by losing 3-5% of their body weight. Limiting exposure to toxins, as best you can, is another way to protect against NAFLD. A nutritious diet and exercise is also essential.
Even with that, it may make sense to give your liver a little extra support. Milk thistle, for example, is known as an excellent herbal support for the liver. Pu’er tea from China aids weight loss and helps with weight management and may be another way. If you do choose to supplement, it’s always best to coordinate with your primary healthcare provider to ensure safety and the best possible result.
[i] Le MH, Devaki P, Ha NB, et al. Prevalence of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and risk factors for advanced fibrosis and mortality in the United States. Yu M-L, ed. PLoS ONE. 2017;12(3):e0173499. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0173499.
[ii] L Temple, Jonathan & Cordero, Paul & Li, Jiawei & Nguyen, Vi & Oben, Jude. (2016). A Guide to Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease in Childhood and Adolescence. International Journal of Molecular Sciences. 17. 947. 10.3390/ijms17060947.
[v] Mesnage R1, et al. Multiomics reveal non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in rats following chronic exposure to an ultra-low dose of Roundup herbicide. Sci Rep. 2017 Jan 9;7:39328. doi: 10.1038/srep39328.
[vi] J. du Toit, N.H. Casey. Iodine as an alleviator of bromine toxicity in thyroid, liver and kidney of broiler chickens,
Livestock Science. Volume 144, Issue 3, 2012, Pages 269-274, ISSN 1871-1413, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.livsci.2011.12.011.
[vii] Bayomy, N. A., Soliman, G. M. and Abdelaziz, E. Z. (2016). Effect of Potassium Bromate on the Liver of Adult Male Albino Rat and A Possible Protective Role of Vitamin C: Histological, Immunohistochemical, and Biochemical Study. Anat. Rec., 299: 1256–1269. doi:10.1002/ar.23386<!– 1519231572208 –>