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What Causes Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)?

What Causes Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)?

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a range of disease states, from steatosis (fatty liver) to non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (also called NASH; steatosis with inflammatory changes) followed by progression to fibrosis, cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma.

The above may mean very little to the average person until you understand what function the liver actually has in your body.

The liver, believe it or not, is the second largest organ in your body and is located under your rib cage on the right side. The liver takes care of many jobs in your body. Most importantly it processes what we eat and drink into energy and nutrients our body can use. The liver also filters the blood and removes harmful substances from the blood. It breaks down and removes cholesterol and regulates the blood sugar throughout the body.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is the build up of fat in liver cells that is not caused by alcohol. It is normal for the liver to contain some fat. However, if more than 5% – 10% percent of the liver’s weight is fat, then it is called a fatty liver (steatosis).

NAFLD tends to develop in people who are overweight or obese or have diabetes, high cholesterol or high triglycerides. Rapid weight loss and poor eating habits also may lead to NAFLD. However, some people develop NAFLD even if they do not have any risk factors. NAFLD affects up to 50% of overweight people in the United States alone and the figures are similar in other westernised states.

In a few of the cases, fatty liver does not cause any harm; however, for some, the long-term presence of fat in the liver leads to inflammation. This is characterised by swelling and tenderness (hepatitis).

As is the case for a large number of diseases our diet plays a very important role. That being said you would think that by simply going on a diet and losing some weight would be enough to reverse NAFLD.

Well yes, a specific diet can reverse fatty liver disease, but a random diet plan will more than likely fail because of the following reasons.

1. The primary source of energy in people is Glycogen (which is a form of carbohydrates)

2. Glycogen is stored in the muscles and once they are full, it is stored in the liver. This means that once the liver is full the body recognizes that it is full of carbohydrates.

3. Body fat is burned only when glycogen from the blood, muscles and finally liver is depleted.

In people with fatty liver, the liver holds on to the carbohydrates in it’s tissues and thus imitates a situation where the body is full of carbs. In this situation, the body “thinks” that there is no need to reach for the body fat because it has all the carbs it needs. Therefore a fatty liver can actually prevent you from losing weight.

On very rare occasions it can even result in our body decomposing muscle for energy instead of burning fat. This wreaks havoc in the body of a fatty liver sufferer.