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Quinn on Nutrition: Treating fatty liver disease

Barbara Quinn, The Monterey County Herald on

Published in Nutrition

It's the most common form of liver disease in United States and other developed countries. And it's not related to alcohol consumption. That's why it's called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease or NAFLD.

Just as its name implies, NAFLD is an abnormal build-up of fat in the liver. If left untreated, the liver becomes more and more inflamed and can eventually progress to irreversible liver damage called cirrhosis.

According to a recent article by registered dietitian Jill Weisenberger in Food & Nutrition magazine for nutrition professionals, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease appears more in people who are obese and/or have type 2 diabetes. NAFLD is also more common if a person has one or more characteristics of a condition called metabolic syndrome: excess inches around the abdomen, high blood sugars, elevated blood pressure and blood triglycerides, and low levels of HDL "good" cholesterol.

Surprisingly (or maybe it shouldn't be), the main treatment for NAFLD involves lifestyle changes to help the liver heal itself. That includes a diet that provides optimal nutrients and limited calories to lose weight.

Slow and steady weight loss is best, say nutrition experts. Diets that cause a rapid loss of weight (more than 3.5 pounds per week) force large amounts of fatty acids through the liver and can actually worsen NAFLD.

Since non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is related to metabolic syndrome, diets that improve that condition are also effective treatments for NAFLD. One good example is the Mediterranean-style diet which features olive oil, nuts, fish, fruit, veggies, and whole grains; this style of eating has been shown to lower fat levels in the liver.

What about wine and other types of alcohol? Even though NAFLD is not related to alcohol consumption, excess booze may aggravate a fatty liver. For this reason, many experts including the American Liver Foundation, advise those with NAFLD to completely avoid alcoholic beverages.

Coffee and tea are generally OK for people with NAFLD. Limited research suggests that the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties of these beverages may reduce the severity of fatty liver. Forget it if you drown your coffee and tea in sugar, however. Drinking super-sweetened beverages may increase your risk for fatty liver, say some scientists.

Also be cautious with self-dosing various supplements, Weisenberger advises. Excessive hits of some herbal products are toxic to the liver. Green tea, for example, is rich in substances that may improve NAFLD. Yet concentrated doses of green tea extracts have caused liver problems in some people, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (nccih.nih.org).

Physical activity is another effective treatment for NAFLD. Aim for a minimum of 150 minutes a week of moderate "huff and puff" exercise combined with a couple of strength training sessions a week, say experts.

(Barbara Quinn is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator affiliated with Community Hospital of the Monterey Peninsula. She is the author of "Quinn-Essential Nutrition" (Westbow Press, 2015). Email her at to barbara@quinnessentialnutrition.com.)

(c)2017 The Monterey County Herald

Visit The Monterey County Herald at www.montereyherald.com

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