As American waistlines continue to expand, a new health crisis is emerging—one that is unnoticed by even health-conscious Americans. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), once rare in the U.S., now affects one in four Americans and according to experts, that’s just the beginning.
“NAFLD will be next health epidemic to hit America,” explains Hyder Jamal, MD, a board-certified gastroenterologist who leads the St. Jude Liver Clinic. “It will soon be the leading cause of liver failure and liver cancer and within a matter of years, will be the largest cause of long-term
disability in the U.S.”
As the name implies, NAFLD is the result of too much fat stored in the liver cells—typically the result of taking in more calories than your liver can process. With NAFLD, excess pounds create the same severe organ damage once seen only among heavy drinkers. Called a silent killer, NAFLD often shows no symptoms and remains undetected until the disease is advanced.
The good news is: like diabetes and obesity, NAFLD is both preventable and reversible, if caught before irreversible scarring—also known as cirrhosis—occurs. And for most, weight loss and exercise are the cure. “When it comes to NAFLD, your fate is almost entirely in your own hands,”
explains Dr. Jamal, who says the Liver Clinic’s nutritionist helps patients find the right weight loss strategy. “Losing just 10 percent of your body weight is often enough to stop the escalating damage and allow the liver to begin to heal.”
“Given a chance, the liver can regenerate and heal itself, even when someone is well on the road to liver failure,” Here are a few helpful tips:
- Avoid high fructose corn syrup
- Throw out sodas and other sugar-filled drinks
- Avoid trans fats (which means driving past most fast food locations)
- Add lots of healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil, wild-caught fish and avocados
- Increase your physical activity
- Get enough vitamin E and the full spectrum of B vitamins, either through diet or a high-quality supplement
“If the body is overwhelmed by caloriesand a lack of exercise, the liver will simply continue to accumulate fat,” explains Dr. Jamal, who uses new Fibroscan technology to noninvasively measure damage within the liver, replacing the need for a liver biopsy. In addition to diagnosis and monitoring, the St. Jude Liver Clinic offers multidisciplinary treatment of NAFLD, hepatitis B and C, and other chronic liver conditions. Dr. Jamal says a potential bright spot are new medications currently in the pipeline that might help slow or reverse damage that doesn’t respond to weight loss.
“NAFLD is a tsunami waiting just off shore,” explains Dr. Jamal, who says overweight individuals can ask their doctor to run a liver enzyme panel blood test to help identify liver inflammation.
To reach the St. Jude Liver Clinic, please call (714) 446-5831.
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