What is a Fatty Liver and how can I help it

Diabetes, Weight loss, blood pressure | December 14, 2016 | Author: Naturopath

cholesterol, liver, obesity

What is a Fatty Liver and how can I help it

Fatty liver disease (steatosis) is an abnormal accumulation of fats in the liver that can cause damage to the organ and lead to serious complications. It is a common liver complaint in Western countries, affecting approximately 1 in every 10 people. Some people may feel fatigued or experience mild abdominal discomfort but otherwise have no other symptoms. Having a fatty liver may cause no damage but in others it may lead to inflammation of the liver (steatohepatitis). Sometimes this inflammation is linked to alcohol abuse and is referred to as alcoholic steatohepatitis. Otherwise, if alcohol isn’t being consumed excessively the condition is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).Fatty liver

The liver is located on the upper-right side of the abdomen and is the largest internal organ of the human body. The main functions of the liver are to remove toxins and the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins and fats along with many other functions.

While it is normal to have some fat storage in the liver, 5-10% of fat in the liver is indicative of fatty liver disease. The good news is this condition can be reversed with changed behaviours, diet, lifestyle and supplementation.

The most common causes of fatty liver are:

  • Insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome\
  • Obesity
  • Toxins- exposure to petrochemicals
  • Certain drugs
  • Consumption of large amounts of alcohol
  • Poor diet

Fatty liver and metabolic syndrome

Metabolic syndrome is now believed to play a major role in the development of fatty liver disease.

Signs and symptoms of metabolic syndrome include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Obesity and weight around the abdomen
  • High levels of triglycerides and/or low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol
  • Resistance to the hormone insulin that controls the amount of glucose is in the blood

Dietary advice

Any foods or substances that place a strain on the liver should be eliminated and this includes alcohol and cigarettes.

The diet should contain low glycaemic index foods and be high in fibre by incorporating wholegrains and a wide range of vegetables.

Reduce carbohydrates from processed foods, take-away meals and in particular high-fructose corn syrup found in soft drinks.

Limit fruit intake to 1-2 pieces per day due to the sugar content.

Increase protein, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory foods.

Gradual weight loss in obese and overweight individuals is imperative for the treatment of fatty liver and has been shown to improve abdominal pain, liver test results and blood chemistry in people with this condition.

Although a high fat diet is not always the cause of fatty liver it is still recommended to adhere to a diet low in saturated and trans fats. However, eating moderate amounts of healthy fats from fresh fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, olive and coconut oil is recommended.

Fresh vegetable juices that include beetroot, celery, spinach, carrot and ginger provides the liver with nutrients and is detoxifying. Starting off the day with fresh lemon juice in warm water can aid digestion and provide support to the liver. Dandelion root tea is a great alternative to tea and coffee and is considered a liver tonic herb.


There is emerging and growing evidence suggesting the importance of increasing physical activity and reducing the fat content of the liver. Resistance and aerobic exercise have both been associated with a significant reduction in liver fat levels and they also improve insulin sensitivity. Exercise also assists in healthy weight reduction in combination with dietary changes and reduced caloric intake.

Specific nutrients

Chromium. A deficiency in chromium has been shown to cause insulin resistance, high blood sugars and lipids (fats). Due to the link between metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance in the pathogenesis of fatty liver, chromium may be helpful to improve these parameters. Recent research has also proven chromium reduces triglyceride synthesis, decreases fatty acid uptake and provides liver protection in fatty liver disease

Magnesium. A deficiency in magnesium has been implicated in the pathogenesis of both forms of fatty liver and insulin resistance. Magnesium helps to improve insulin sensitivity in metabolic syndrome.

Carnitine supplementation can improve blood sugar control in individuals with impaired glucose metabolism and plays a role in the metabolism of fatty acids. A deficiency in carnitine promotes the production of the bad form of cholesterol and encourages the synthesis of triglycerides from the liver.

Taurine. Supplementation with the amino acid Taurine is associated with a decrease in cholesterol, triglycerides and liver lipid levels and may be helpful in treating fatty liver.

Omega 3 may also be beneficial in the treatment of fatty liver. In a study involving 42 participants with fatty liver disease, omega 3 supplementation at only 1g capsule per day for 12 months decreased liver enzyme levels, fasting glucose and fat storage in the liver.

Herbal medicine

Herbs can be used for a variety of reasons in fatty liver disease by reducing inflammation, improving digestion, supporting liver detoxification, improving insulin resistance and metabolism of fats.

The main herb that supports liver detoxification by acting as an antioxidant is Silybum marianum (St Mary’s Thistle), with its main active constituent being silymarin.

Fatty liverA randomized clinical trial of 50 patients with NAFLD with elevated liver enzyme levels and increased fat storage in the liver detected by sonography were given 140mg of silymarin for 2 months.

Results showed a significant drop in liver enzyme levels and researchers noted a role for silymarin in future treatment of NAFLD.


Gymnema sylvestre (Gymnema) is useful in reducing blood sugars, serum cholesterol and triglycerides. This herb has been used in India for over 2000 years in India in the treatment of Diabetes and may also play a role in treating fatty liver.

Fatty liver disease is the accumulation of fat storage in the liver and is often related to metabolic syndrome. Naturopathic treatment involves making dietary and lifestyle changes and taking specific herbs and nutrients that treat underlying metabolic causes such as obesity, insulin resistance and impaired fatty acid pathways as well as supporting healthy liver function.


Hechtman L (2014). Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. Churchill Livingstone, Australia
Wang S, et al. Trivalent chromium alleviates oleic acid induced steatosis in SMMC-7721 cells by decreasing fatty acid uptake and triglyceride synthesis. Biometals. 2016 Oct;29(5):881-92

Militante D, Lobardini JB. Dietary taurine supplementation: hypolipidemic and antiatherogenic effects. Nut Res 2004;24:787-801
Capanni M, et al. Prolonged n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation ameliorates hepatic steatosis in patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease: a pilot study. Ailment Pharmacol Ther. 2006 April 15;23(8):1143-51


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