“Mr. Smith, you have fatty liver. You need to cut down on alcohol.” “But doctor, I don’t drink!”
If you have a similar story, you are not alone. A large proportion of patients diagnosed with fatty liver are told by their doctors to stop drinking, even though they are dry like a biscuit stuck in hot sand.
Some time ago fatty liver was thought to be a disease of alcoholics. Heavy drinkers paid the price for their sins not only with red noses, but also by buttering their vital organs. Today we know that scotch and whiskey are not the only culprits.
A chilling shower of studies sobered us up recently by revealing that even everyday foods can put grease on the liver as well. Don’t be shocked if they include healthy foods that you snack on daily while eyeing immortality.
Do you have a fatty liver?
If your doctor did not tell you that, it does not mean you don’t. It may just mean he did not test you for it or simply you have so many other more serious problems, that fatty liver did not even make it to the conversation.
So, how does one diagnose the problem? Fatty liver can be spotted by a biopsy, although less invasive tests such as an ultrasound or MRI may be sufficient. However, just like it is with any other disease, a mere judgement of a testing technician is not enough for a good assessment. It requires some calculation.
To be diagnosed as fatty, this naturally free from fat organ has to accumulate at least 5% of its weight in grease. That’s quite a bit and with 5% or 10% of fat in it, don’t expect the liver to function well. Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), metabolic syndrome, inflammation, carbohydrate intolerance, indigestion, chronic fatigue, body aches, bloating, and other symptoms may show up. Fatty liver can precede T2 diabetes by a few decades and it is the most common diabetic co-morbidity. 60-80% of diabetics have it. Did you know that fatty liver is also linked to several seemingly unrelated health issues like depression and psoriasis?
Because fatty liver coexist with many chronic diseases you want to have your digestive track in top notch shape regardless of what your doctor says. The good news is you don’t need any lab tests to get an idea where your liver stands. Studies pointed out that fatty liver and a larger waist-to-hip ratio go together.[i] In other words yellowed livers likely reside in bloated stomachs.
Here is a simple health test you can do today: just stand up. If you can’t see your toes and you are not expecting a baby, it is time for a healthier lifestyle. Fatty liver is an end effect of mismanaged lifestyle. You weren`t born with a bloated belly, were you? If not, then you made it. And it likely happened because of two common dietary errors: you have been over-eating on fructose and did not pay attention to antioxidants. So what can you do about it?
Step 1: Look out for hidden fructose
Fructose, a simple sugar, is abundant in fruits, and many sweeteners (fructose, table sugar, honey, agave syrup, etc) are made of it. Although it tastes good it is toxic. Its excess must be immediately neutralised, or more precisely, converted to fat by the liver. This fat from fructose won’t travel to your hips or thighs, but will stay in or around the liver while increasing your circumference.
Overeating on fructose is extremely easy. A cup of fruit juice or a fruit smoothie can basically cause a fructose flood of “biblical proportion”. Sadly, “healthy foods” are not always healthy and many may push your liver beyond its capacity.
Among the hidden fructose sources are: those great-tasting fruit smoothies or fruit juices you give to the kids, hunger-appeasing dried fruit bars that are so convenient to take, insulin-friendly diabetic candy bars promoted by dietitians, whole grain glucose-fructose breakfast cereals that get on every table, mouth-watering peach cakes and raspberry pastries you get from the corner bakery, nutritious vitamin waters advertised on TV, thirst-quenching iced teas for those hot days, yummy condiments and salad dressings that accompany your healthy menu, natural jams that have “no sugar added”, fruits canned in their own juice, innocently looking low alcohol vodka coolers, and highly tempting sweet breakfast buns that go well with morning espresso.
Step 2: Max out on key antioxidants
Antioxidants are the backbone of health and the liver cannot function without them. They are used to quench toxins, curb down inflammation, and process nutrients. Getting a sufficient daily dose of antioxidants shouldn’t be that difficult. Food grown on nutrient-rich soil is packed with those.
Unfortunately, many of us choose poorly. We buy food that is speed-grown in a poor soil and also highly processed after harvesting. Purifications, modifications, irradiation, anti-fungal spraying, hydrogenation, pasteurisation, heat treatment, storage, additives, preservatives, flavourings, aeration, light exposure, and other alterations change antioxidant content.
We know all this and we know we should eat healthy, but somehow the convenience of fast food takes over and we dumb-tumble into a dark world of poor nutrition. Once in, it is hard to get out. Soon insufficiency of nutrients and antioxidants takes a toll on the bodies. Chronic ailments such as fatty liver, inflammation, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, weak immune system, diabetes, and gout show up. These are fueled by gross nutritional imbalances.
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For the liver, the most important seem to be fat-soluble antioxidants. Studies showed that fatty liver is notoriously low on vitamin D, and that vitamin E is extremely helpful in degreasing the organ. These fat-soluble antioxidants occur in abundance in unprocessed fresh raw oils and fats.
If you think that you can take supplements instead and be just fine you are misled. I can tell you from my 20 years of clinical experience that pills can only provide an expensive, partial, and temporary solution at best. Permanent solution requires lifestyle changes and that starts with avoidance of processed food.
One can ruin the liver by eating stale oils and nutrient-poor packaged foods. For a healthier body, look for unprocessed organic produce, cook at home, use low heat, and eat raw whenever possible. Stay away from experts that promote fear of fat. Avoid them like a plaque. Be sceptical of sales people (including those that have the power of a white coat) that pun cholesterol-lowering products whether drugs or supplements. Be aware that long term use of low fat diets as well as cholesterol suppression can lead to irreparable damage. Read The Cholesterol Trap. It will open your eyes, so you don’t kill yourself while trying to get healthy.
How to feed the (fatty) liver
It is easy! The liver is not too picky, but it has a few definite favourites. It loves lemons, carrots, organic butter, black coffee, organic apples, plain full-fat yogurt, and bacteria-laden sauerkraut. It gets ecstatic with milk thistle and dandelion teas. These two herbs promote better function and increase bile flow, which in turn makes it easier for the liver to dispose of it grease. Fibrous veggies such as broccoli, peas, cabbage, and Brussel sprouts are great as well. They help by helping you poop more fat.
Be picky about what you put in your mouth. Choose real, non-adulterated food. Distinguish high quality food from its imitations. Fruits are not fruit bars. Cooked oats are not cheerios. And almonds don’t squirt milk.
Step 3: Move, burn, lose!
Did you know that sedentary lifestyle, regardless of the diet, also leads to fatty liver? According to several studies the less you move and the longer you stay in a chair the higher your chances for creamed organs and associated diseases? It gets worse if you sit over 7 hours a day[ii]. The 7-hour limit is valid regardless whether you are slim or whether you have a protruding belly.
We live in times when physical exertion may appear unnecessary, but that’s a fatal misconception. Sedentary lifestyle is a major contributing factor to modern chronic diseases. Moving about is not an option and just like you find time to breathe, poop, and brush teeth you also need to find time to move about.
The best way to start is to get yourself a fitness gadget that can track your moving habit without bias. Objectivity is important when it comes to physical activity. Many people believe they are active only to find out that the gadget can distinguish between wishful thinking and actual squats. An absolute minimum is 10,000 steps a day and 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week. This won’t make you an athlete but at least spare you from the looming inactivity-induced disease burden.
Lifting yourself from a chair in regular intervals may be the hardest thing you`ve ever done, but remember: sitting about won’t make you healthy regardless how many lemon juice diets you`d go through. A healthy diet is only one part of the equation. The other part requires squatting, running, and lifting. That other half is so vital that if you forgo it, you may kiss your health dream goodbye.
Eating quality food, avoiding processed junk, and being physically active is not a daunting task. It is within everyone’s reach, but it requires a will, a plan, and commitment. This is when many fail and this is why North America is rapidly turning into the fatty liver capital. It is not lack of information, but lack of motivation and reward system that holds us back. Our current medical system that is drug, not lifestyle oriented, is largely at fault. I don’t think we can health-progress our society unless doctors instead of prescribing drug protocols roll up their sleeves and teach people how to live healthy.
On second thought, that would not pay well.