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Dodging the wave of fatty liver disease

One of the speakers at this month’s Australasian conference on lifestyle medicine predicted a tsunami of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). It already affects at least one in five of us. So how do we avoid becoming part of this tidal wave, and if we are, how do we get out of it?

First, a reminder that livers are big and hard working. They have lots of jobs, including clearing toxins and excess hormones, and converting our food to fuel. 

Harvard Medical School’s definition of NAFLD is the presence of fat in more than 5% of liver cells. Untreated it can lead to inflammation, which can lead to scarring. Cirrhosis is severe scarring.

How do we get a fatty liver? It’s linked with excess weight — especially fat around our middles, insulin resistance, probably too much processed food, and not enough exercise. Genes have a role in there too. 

Not surprisingly, it also has links with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Some researchers think that NAFLD encourages high blood pressure. 

It’s useful to recognise that just being postmenopausal puts us at higher risk for NAFLD. Estrogen has liver-protective functions, and we lose those with menopause. Hormonal changes plus ageing can be a double-whammy for the liver. 

The best preventative though is a good quality diet and more physical activity, such as walking. The general guideline for avoiding chronic disease is the equivalent of 30 minutes of cardiovascular activity five times a week.

Again, the Mediterranean diet is thought to be beneficial, with a focus on unrefined cereals, vegetables, fruit, olive oil, nuts, fish, legumes, and herbs and spices, with small amounts of meat and dairy. Limit alcohol to a small glass per day. 

NAFLD is an inflammatory condition, and this is an anti-inflammatory diet. It’ll also help your gut, cholesterol, blood pressure and insulin.

It’s worth mentioning that your liver is closely connected to your gut. Livers get about 70% of their blood supply directly from the intestine, so they’re heavily affected by what’s going on in the gut. A good balance of healthy gut bacteria will make for a happier liver.

Photo Source: Bigstock

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Monday, August 27, 2018 | Rhonda Anderson