3 Surprising ways you harmed your liver this summer

Posted on 3 January 2019

It’s not just excessive alcohol that can damage this vital organ. Lack of exercise, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and a poor diet can put you at risk of developing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

While it’s normal to have small amounts of fat in your liver, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease means there is fat in more than 5% of your liver cells. As Dr Carl Streicher, a specialist surgeon at Mediclinic Bloemfontein, cautions, this can result in serious complications such as inflammation of the liver (steatohepatitis) and can lead to permanent damage (cirrhosis) over time.

Dr Hunter adds that despite its severity, NAFLD usually doesn’t cause any symptoms in the early stages. “In fact, you probably won’t know you have it unless it is diagnosed during tests carried out for a different reason,” he says. “Occasionally, symptoms might include a dull pain over the lower, right side of your ribs, extreme tiredness and unexplained weight loss.”

So what negative lifestyle choices are you making at the moment that might increase your risk of developing this disease?

1. You’re overweight – and you don’t exercise

If you are carrying too many extra kilograms and you’re more likely to be found on the couch than the tennis court, your pancreas won’t be able to produce enough insulin to keep your levels of blood sugar and blood fat (cholesterol) under normal control. As Dr Sreicher explains, NAFLD appears to develop when the liver, which normally helps to process and regulate the amount of sugar and fat in the blood, becomes overwhelmed and starts storing excess fat in its own liver cells.

INFOGRAPHIC: 7 Super simple ways to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle

2. You have Type 2 diabetes

Diabetes does not cause fatty liver disease but the two diseases tend to occur in the same people because the same conditions cause both problems. “People with obesity often have insulin resistance or diabetes and fatty liver is often associated,” says Dr Streicher.

3. You’ve got a sweet tooth

Added sugars (found in chocolates, packaged foods, store-baked goods, ice cream and sweetened sodas) can contribute to high blood sugar levels and increased fat in the liver. In addition, if your diet is very high in carbohydrates and proteins, you might have high levels of triglycerides (bad cholesterol). These are stored in the fat cells and can be deposited in the liver. Insulin resistance can lead to increased triglycerides and increased uptake of fatty acids in the liver, causing further accumulation of liver triglycerides.

The good news is that a mild case of fatty NAFLD can be reversed if you make important lifestyle changes.  “The normal treatment for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is to aim for a healthy weight through diet and exercise,” Dr Streicher says. Ensure your plate included foods that make it easier for your body to use insulin and that lower inflammation. Fatty fish, olive oil, nuts, avocados and garlic are all good choices. In addition, avoiding foods high in fructose and corn syrup can help keep fat in your liver to a minimum.

INFOGRAPHIC: Not all calories are created equal


Published in Gastroenterology

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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