Samantha Cassetty, RD 5 days ago
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) affects about 25% of the population, yet many people are unaware they have the condition. That’s because the disease doesn’t produce symptoms in its early and middle stages. But once the disease advances, it can be life threatening. That’s why early detection and lifestyle modifications are key. Dr. Arun J. Sanyal, a liver specialist at VCU Health and professor at the VCU School of Medicine, shares what you need to know about this condition and how to prevent or manage it.
© Provided by TODAY What is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease? Fatty liver can be caused by heavy alcohol use, but in this case, the fat buildup is related to metabolic complications of insulin resistance and obesity, which are risk factors for the disorder. Consider it the perfect metabolic storm where your fat tissue releases excessive fat into your bloodstream, which then becomes available to your liver. At the same time, insulin resistance paves the way for excess sugar in the liver to be stored as fat. This sets up other metabolic abnormalities and promotes cell injury, death and inflammation in the liver. Over time, this leads to scarring and irreversible liver damage.
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A nutritious diet may protect against NAFLDA balanced, nutritious diet can help you manage your weight and reduce your risk of insulin resistance, and therefore help protect against developing NAFLD. Additionally, you can help offset more serious liver damage with lifestyle changes, such as modifying your diet. Sanyal recommends sensible dietary changes that you can sustain over time. “Yo-yo dieting doesn’t help,” he says. Instead, he suggests making healthy eating a family affair. “If one person in the family is trying to change their eating habits while everyone else is maintaining the same pattern of eating, it can feel like a punishment. And that’s unlikely to lead to long-term changes.”
The best diet is one that promotes healthier blood-sugar levels and cardiovascular risk factors, he says. Here are some helpful strategies:
Develop healthy sleep habits and stress-management practices Sanyal points out that feeling stressed and being under-rested can play a part in the development of liver damage. For example, your circadian clock genes, which are genes that interact with each other to regulate your circadian rhythm, are also involved in managing fat metabolism in your liver. Plus, your circadian rhythm is involved in regulated glucose metabolism. Therefore, for these processes to function correctly, it’s crucial to get the recommended seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
Additionally, a heightened stress response — which, these days, can be a common reaction to ordinary daily stressors — can activate the sympathetic nervous system, which worsens insulin resistance. So be it a few minutes of deep breathing or journaling, finding healthy ways to cope with stress has a positive influence on your health.
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Bottom line NAFLD is often asymptomatic until later stages when it’s irreversible. Developing some healthier lifestyle habits and monitoring for liver damage — especially if you have Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance or obesity — can help protect against more severe forms of liver disease. However, it’s important to work with a patient-centered provider who understands the barriers you face making lifestyle changes. Together, you can work on a manageable plan to help protect you from irreversible liver damage.