What you should know:
1. NAFLD is the result of too much fat stored in the liver cells, a consequence of taking in more calories than your liver can process. Excess pounds and inactivity are creating the same severe organ damage once seen only among heavy drinkers.
2. Called a silent killer, NAFLD often shows no symptoms and remains undetected until the disease is advanced.
3. The good news? NAFLD is both preventable and reversible if caught before permanent scarring—known as cirrhosis—occurs. For most, weight loss and exercise are the cure. “Given the chance, the liver can regenerate and heal itself, even when someone is well on the road to advanced liver scarring,” explains Dr. Jamal, adding that losing just 10% of your body weight is often enough to stop the escalating damage and allow the liver to begin to recover.
4. High-fructose corn syrup and trans fats are thought to be key culprits. “Read the label of everything from sodas to frozen pizzas and you’ll find those ingredients,” says Dr. Jamal, who uses a noninvasive liver fitness test to measure fat and damage within the liver, information previously available only through a liver biopsy.
5. Healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil, wild-caught salmon, eggs, and avocados, can help reverse NAFLD’s inflammation. Foods high in vitamin E, vitamin B and choline (which helps the liver process fat) are also beneficial.
As Americans’ waistlines continue to expand, an unnoticed health crisis is emerging. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, once rare in the U.S., now affects one in three, and according to Hyder Jamal, MD, gastroenterologist and Medical Director of Hepatology at Providence St. Jude, the number is growing.
“The liver is the body’s main detoxification organ, and damage caused by NAFLD includes metabolic disease, liver failure, heart disease, stroke, depression and cognitive decline—it can literally shrink the brain,” he explains. “NAFLD is expected to soon become the main cause of long-term disability in the U.S.”
Need more motivation to act? There are currently about 6,000 liver transplants performed in the U.S. each year, with another 9,000 individuals left on the organ wait list. NAFLD is expected to swell the wait list to roughly 5 million by 2030. “Fatty liver disease,” says Dr. Jamal, “is America’s next health epidemic.”
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