Fatty Liver and the Need for Good Nutrition

Medically known as steatosis, fatty liver is an accumulation of fat cells in the liver which can be caused by many factors. There are many types of fatty liver, including alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Each type of fatty liver is typically asymptomatic and is usually found in the course of normal or routine blood screenings or in the course of ruling out another disease or condition. It is thought that fatty liver sometimes occurs as a result of a faulty fat transfer from one part of the body to another, but may also be caused by increased fat extraction of fat presented to the liver from the intestine. Another cause for fatty liver is a decrease in the rate at which the liver breaks down and removes fat from the system.

Known risk factors for fatty liver includes obesity, starvation, diabetes, corticosteroids, poisons, Cushings Syndrome, hyperlipidemia (high levels of fat in the blood), hepatitis C, and irritable bowel syndrome. Microvescular Fatty Liver can be caused by valproic acid toxicity, high doses of tetracycline and occasionally from pregnancy. The liver is typically enlarged with a minor elevation of liver enzyme tests. Fatty liver is one of the most common causes of isolated elevated liver enzymes. The disease might be suggested by ultrasound, CT or MRI, however a liver biopsy is necessary to make a definitive diagnosis of fatty liver.

Treatment for fatty liver may not be needed in mild cases, however for some forms of fatty liver eliminating alcohol, controlling blood sugar and careful weight loss may be suggested. It is very important that fatty liver be carefully monitored, no matter the type or the cause. Up to ten percent of those with cirrhotic fatty liver will convert to a type of liver cancer called hepatocellular carcinoma. The disease is seen in around 10-24% of the general public, worldwide, however it is seen in up to 75% of the obese (Source: Health Scout).

Why Fat is Not the Enemy

Fatty liver is not typically caused simply by eating high fat foods or a high fat diet, however obesity is a major risk factor. On the other side of the coin, starvation is also a cause of fatty liver. Dieting should be done in a healthy and sensible way if weight is to be lost, with no crash or fad diets that can lead the body to either slow or stop the metabolism. Starvation diets are never the answer, and because it can lead to fatty liver, are definitely not healthy.

Fat is necessary in the diet, however, how much is needed will depend on your personal dietary needs. A dietician or doctor will tell you how many calories that you should eat and how much of each nutrient that you need.

Healthy Diets Make Healthy Livers

The liver is the second heaviest organ in the body and plays a major role in the process of digestion. Your liver is the organ that decides which nutrients are needed, which are not; what is toxic and what is not and what to use as energy and what to store as fat. The harder the liver has to work to detoxify and eliminate what it deems to be harmful or unnecessary, the less effective it will eventually become. The danger of having an overstressed liver is not only fatty liver, but the possibility of eventual liver cancer. A better diet, one that includes all of the right nutrients can lead to less stress in the body as well as better overall health.

A good diet includes carbohydrates, fat, and proteins in the right amount and of the right type.

Carbohydrates – Carbohydrates are the primary energy source for the body. Most of the body can adapt to other energy sources (fats or proteins) but the brain cannot. The testes must also have energy from carbohydrates alone (Source: Roizen and Oz 2006). Carbohydrates are either simple or complex. Simple carbohydrates are those that are made from white sugar and flour and are very easily digested in the body. Unfortunately, these carbs cause the blood sugar to rise very quickly. In response, the liver sends messages to the pancreas that will in turn flood the body with insulin. Most of these simple carbs will then be stored as fat in the body instead of being burned as energy. Quickly, the body will feel that it needs energy and will send out the hunger signal again, setting you up for a vicious cycle that can lead to obesity and possibly, fatty liver.

Complex carbohydrates, like the ones in whole grain foods do not cause this rapid blood sugar spike and are broken down much more slowly. Because there is no sugar spike, the complex carbs are used by the body more efficiently.

Fats – Fat is necessary in the body, and is the second line of energy, however it is more easily broken down than carbohydrates. Bad fats are those that are solid at room temperature and/or contain the word “hydrogenated”. Good fats are those that have omega 3 fatty acids which is good for heart health. Olive oils, avocados and nuts are good sources for healthy fats.

Protein – Protein is needed by every cell in the body and in most of the major functions. It comes from two sources: plants and animals. All animal protein and soy protein are complete in that they supply all of the essential amino acids. There are 20 amino acids; the body can manufacture all but eight of these. Protein should make up around 20-30% of the diet, however, the American Heart Association cautions that diets that are higher than 35% protein are not safe.

Protein is beneficial in the diet because it leads to feelings of satiety so that you can eat far less without feeling that you are overly hungry. Protein helps to build and repair connective and contractive tissue, meaning more lean muscle mass. Muscles burn more energy simply by existing, kicking your metabolism into gear and keeping you burning fat around the clock.

Protein Supplements – There are several different kinds of protein supplements that can be added to the healthy diet. Profect from Protica is a liquid protein that can be found in several strengths as well as several flavors. The small, easy to carry around 25 gram single serving is only one hundred calories, however there is a two serving 50 gram vial that saves money over the single serve and is thicker. A 200 gram, ten serving (20 grams each) bottle is marketed for hospitals and other medical care institutions; however it can be used for home use as well. This version of Profect can be used at full strength or can be mixed with fruit juice or water. In addition, there is an all natural liquid protein supplement, Proasis that can be used as well.

There are other types of protein supplements as well- including powders (whey, rice, eggs and soy) and bars.

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