By Melissa Cook, Nutritionist
I have a great passion for helping people feel better - both on the inside AND the outside - through using 'food as medicine'. This means balancing and healing underlying causes that can be driving our health concerns - even when we are not aware of them.
One of the common health conditions I am seeing in clinic with my Metabolic Balance clients is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). NAFLD is the most common liver disease, AND the leading cause of liver-related death globally. It is estimated to affect around 25-30% of people - with research indicating that it is more likely to be higher (32% or more). And it's continuing to grow at an alarming rate. Currently, nutrition and lifestyle interventions are the frontline treatments.
What exactly is 'fatty liver'?
NAFLD is a common condition caused by having too much fat build up in your liver. A healthy liver contains a small amount of fat. It becomes a problem when fat reaches 5% to 10% of your liver’s weight. Whilst it is common in people who are overweight, it can also occur in individuals of normal weight.
We cannot see someone walking around with NAFLD purely by looking at them, so how can we detect the onset of liver issues in clinic? Elevated liver enzymes on a blood test (such as the comprehensive pathology panel we use with our personalised nutrition clients) can be helpful. Our Metabolic Balance clients receive a specific 36 marker blood test which gives us a fantastic snapshot of their health, and any areas we need to support to maximise health. Whilst liver markers are often related to the quality of the food we are eating, they may also indicate liver problems caused by alcohol, drugs, exposure to environmental toxins or hepatitis. Here are a few of the markers I am always paying particular attention to:
- Alkaline phosphatase (ALP) is an enzyme located mainly in the liver and the bones.
- Aspartate aminotransferase (AST) is an enzyme created mainly by the liver and the heart.
- Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) is an enzyme mainly produced by the liver.
- Gamma-glutamyl transferase (GGT) is a liver enzyme which can be used to diagnose alcohol abuse as it is typically raised in long term drinkers..
When I discuss a client's blood test results with them, where markers may indicate the onset of a fatty liver, I notice shock and the common response is “I don’t drink a lot of alcohol.” Most people think that a fatty liver is caused by excessive chronic intake of alcohol. This is certainly one type of fatty liver, however what I am talking about today is NAFLD which is caused by food and lifestyle.
Why the liver is so important
Lets take a step back and understand how our incredible liver works and the processes it undergoes to support our incredible bodies. It:
- Stores iron
- Helps your body convert nutrients into energy.
- Creates substances that help your blood clot (stick together to heal wounds).
- Assists immune function by making components and removing bacteria and toxins (substances that can harm your body) from your blood.
- Detoxifies hormones, medications, alcohol and so much more
- Produces bile which helps aid in digestion
- Makes proteins for the body
- Plays a role in your metabolism and fat-burning
- Stores vitamins and minerals.
What causes fatty liver?
Some people get fatty liver disease without having any pre-existing conditions. But these risk factors make you more likely to develop it:- Being overweight or obese- A diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes- Metabolic syndrome or 'pre-diabetes' which is a combination of insulin resistance, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and/or high triglyceride levels). Certain prescription medications. And of course, when we have some or all of these conditions, we are more prone to feeling unwell and endure health related conditions in the future.
In clinic, I am seeing clients as young as 30, with markers indicative of the onset of NAFLD and I am so passionate about reversing this and helping my clients regain a beautiful healthy liver!
How can fatty liver disease be prevented?
The best way to avoid fatty liver disease is to do the things that maintain overall health. The good news is that our liver has an amazing ability to repair itself! It is possible to reduce liver fat and inflammation, and reverse early liver damage, with the right approach, including
- Maintaining a healthy weight. If you do want to lose weight for your health, it is best to do this with a sensible plan, not a crash diet. This ensures that you are being kind to your liver, whilst minimising the chance of regaining weight.
- Exercising regularly
- Limiting your alcohol consumption
Our clients that create a new healthy lifestyle through our Metabolic Balance program are seeing incredible results with their liver enzymes. As Metabolic Balance is purely wholefoods, right for your body….liver enzymes that were once indicating high levels, are reduced over time and health and wellbeing begin to be restored.
A healthy liver = a happy you.
P.S. Want to find out what other health issues our program has helped our clients with? Check out our range of success stories here!