If you’re overweight, there is a decent chance you have a fatty liver. If you’re obese (a BMI of 30 or more), there’s a 70-80% chance that you have a fatty liver, and if you’re morbidly obese, it’s almost a guarantee.
By the year 2025, if the trends hold, some 45% of the adult population will be obese, which means about 25 million Americans will have Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD).
You can’t see a fatty liver, though, and you might not even have symptoms from it, yet. So why does it matter?
Why Fatty Liver Disease Is A Problem
Your fat is not inert; it’s an endocrine organ (meaning it makes hormones). It sets off a series of inflammatory cytokines, or cell signals, including TNFa, which spikes inflammation and leads to fibrosis in the liver—and fibrotic tissue can’t perform its job of detoxification adequately. Long-term fibrosis can progress to cirrhosis (liver failure)—and in fact if these numbers for obesity hold, it suggests an additional 3.75 million cases of cirrhosis by 2025. Fatty liver also increases the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma, or liver cancer.
The one hormone produced by adipose (fat) tissue that is beneficial is adiponectin, which can reverse fatty liver disease. However, adiponectin production gets shut down by BPA (Bisphenol A, see below).
How the Liver Gets Fatty
When your body stores sugar, it turns it in to triglycerides, which get packaged into LDL (Low-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol in the liver.
In cases of metabolic syndrome, though, this process gets overtaxed. There’s too much sugar all trying to get into storage at once, and so it backs up in the liver. It’s sort of like a bottleneck: LDL is trying to shuttle the triglycerides out to the peripheral tissues to get stored as fat, but it just can’t keep up—so some of those triglycerides get stuck in the liver, leading to, literally, a “fatty liver.” For this reason, fatty liver disease or NAFLD is highly correlated with insulin resistance.
Other causes include High Fructose Corn Syrup intake, since HFCS goes straight to storage.
Another big cause are environmental pollutants, and particularly BPA (Bisphenol A, or any of the Bisphenol family), found in the lining of canned foods and plastic containers. Others include phthalates (found in flexible plastics) and arsenic (found in rice, the water supply, and non-organic chicken).
Overly rapid weight loss can cause this as well, since the same thing can happen in reverse: HDL takes fat from peripheral tissues and shuttles it into the liver so that the triglycerides can get broken down and used as energy. But if there’s a bottleneck because you’re losing too much weight too quickly, then you get a backup, and this can cause fatty liver disease as well.
If you already have fatty liver, or if you are at risk:
- Get on a good weight loss protocol that is sustainable, and not too quick. You not only want to be able to sustain your gains, but you want to avoid overwhelming your liver, too (which means a loss of about 2 lbs per week is ideal).
- Avoid BPA. This means no canned foods, no hard plastics, and say no to receipts too (since the ink transfers BPA to your skin with just a few seconds of contact).
- Avoid phthalates. None of those flimsy plastic water bottles. Don’t use cling wrap for your food, either! And read the labels on your personal care products.
- Avoid fructose as a sweetener, and especially High Fructose Corn Syrup.
- Eat healthy, to reverse insulin resistance. If you’re wondering how, read this.