Fatty liver disease is the most common form of chronic liver disease in the U.S., affecting an estimated 80 to 100 million people, according to the Mayo Clinic. There are a few diet and lifestyle changes that can help you fix a fatty liver naturally.
What Is Fatty Liver Disease?
Fatty liver disease, or hepatic steatosis, is an umbrella term for a number of liver conditions wherein the main characteristic is too much fat stored in the liver cells.
A growing phenomenon around the world, according to a July 2016 study published in Hepatology, it is linked to obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome. It can also be caused by drinking too much alcohol, which causes fat to get stored in the liver over time.
One of the unusual things about this health condition is that in most cases, it does not show any symptoms, which is dangerous because some people with fatty liver disease could have inflammation in the liver or even liver damage. More serious forms of fatty liver disease can result in fibrosis, cirrhosis, liver failure or liver cancer.
Since it does not show any symptoms, fatty liver disease is often detected when people are undergoing medical tests for other reasons and their ultrasound tests reveal liver abnormalities or their blood tests reveal raised liver enzymes.
If you have been diagnosed with this condition, here are some ways to fix a fatty liver naturally. You should consult your doctor before you make any major changes to your lifestyle or diet, or take any supplements, to prevent any adverse side effects. If your fatty liver condition is alcohol-related, you must stop drinking immediately.
Try and Lose Some Weight
A study published in the journal Clinics and Research in Hepatology and Gastroenterology in September 2013 found that patients who exercised and followed a healthy diet for three months and were able to reduce their body weight percentage by 8 percent saw a significant reduction of fat in their liver. Although the study was small, its findings are consistent with previous research.
In fact, a small study published Diabetes Care in November 2013 found that even if patients regained some of the weight, it didn't necessarily mean the fat accumulated in their liver once again.
In this study, the patients followed either a reduced fat or reduced carbohydrate diet for six months, and it shrunk the amount of fat in their liver. However many of them regained some of the weight in the two years after, but that did not cause fat to build up in their liver again.
Start Exercising Regularly
Physical activity is an effective way to repair fatty liver. A review published in Gene Expression in May 2018 concluded that both aerobic exercise and resistance training can help reduce liver fat content. The review found that the patients' liver fat went down even if they didn't lose any weight, proving that exercise directly benefits the liver.
The authors recommend building an exercise routine that fits your abilities and preferences, so that you stick with it in the long run. They also note that exercising can help reduce the risk of patients with fatty liver developing other conditions like diabetes and hypertension.
Cut Out Unhealthy Carbs
Avoid unhealthy, refined carbs like pasta, pizza, cake, sweets, candy, soda and sugar and opt for healthy, complex carbs like whole grains and legumes instead. Excess carbohydrates, especially refined carbs, get converted into triglycerides and are stored in the liver as fat. The ideal fatty liver disease diet consists of whole grains, lots of fruits and vegetables and limited salt and sugar.
A small October 2012 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that overweight people who ate excess carbs for three weeks saw a 27 percent increase of liver fat, even though their weight only increased by 2 percent. The same patients were then put on a low-carb diet for three weeks and were able to lose 4 percent of their body weight and 25 percent of their liver fat.
Eat More Healthy Fats
Avoid foods with saturated fats like red meat, cheese and fried foods and opt for healthy, unsaturated fats, which have been shown to improve liver health.
A small July 2012 study published in Diabetes Care found that eating monounsaturated fats led to significant reduction in liver fat in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Olive oil, avocados and nuts are good sources of monounsaturated fats that you can add to your diet.
Polyunsaturated fats, like omega-3 fatty acids, have also proved to be beneficial for liver health. A small study published in PLOS One in July 2015 found that taking fish oil supplements improved fatty liver.
Fish oil supplements are a good source of omega-3, but you can opt to add more seafood to your diet instead of taking supplements if you prefer. Salmon, mackerel, sardines, seabass, herring, trout, oysters and shrimp are good sources of omega-3. For vegetarians, seaweed, algae, chia seeds, flax seeds, hemp seeds, walnuts and soy products like tofu, edamame, soy milk and soybean oil are good sources of omega-3 fatty acids.
Take Milk Thistle Supplements
Milk thistle has been used as a natural, herbal remedy for liver problems for over 2,000 years. Sometimes considered a weed, its leaves yield a milky white extract that lends the plant its name. Silymarin, one of the flavanoids in milk thistle, has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that are believed to protect the liver from toxins and help it heal itself.
However, the research on whether milk thistle is an effective treatment for fatty liver has shown mixed results, and the medical community has not reached a conclusion either way.
- Mayo Clinic: “Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Short-Term Multidisciplinary Non-Pharmacological Intervention Is Effective in Reducing Liver Fat Content Assessed Non-Invasively in Patients With Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Effect of 6-Month Nutritional Intervention on Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Long-Lasting Improvements in Liver Fat and Metabolism Despite Body Weight Regain After Dietary Weight Loss”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “The Effects of Physical Exercise on Fatty Liver Disease”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Effect of Short-Term Carbohydrate Overfeeding and Long-Term Weight Loss on Liver Fat in Overweight Humans”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Liver Fat Is Reduced by an Isoenergetic MUFA Diet in a Controlled Randomized Study in Type 2 Diabetic Patients”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Fish Oil Supplements Lower Serum Lipids and Glucose in Correlation With a Reduction in Plasma Fibroblast Growth Factor 21 and Prostaglandin E2 in Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Associated With Hyperlipidemia: A Randomized Clinical Trial”
- University of Maryland Medical Center: “Milk Thistle”
- National Institutes of Health: “Fatty Liver Disease”
- U.S. National Library of Medicine: “Global Epidemiology of Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: Meta-Analytic Assessment of Prevalence, Incidence and Outcomes”