How to treat Fatty Liver Disease (Hepatic Steatosis)? Find out now!
It is estimated that more than 80 million people suffer from hepatic steatosis or liver steatosis. In other words, about 8% of the population suffers from an excessive accumulation of fat in this organ, the second largest in the body, which means that 5 to 10% of the liver mass is made up of fat.
Fatty liver: what is it?
The fat we ingest is metabolized in the liver and other tissues. However, if it is ingested in excessive quantities, it ends up being stored in the adipose tissue, accumulating in the liver which is unable to transform and eliminate it.
This problem can have various causes and can progress to various irreversible liver diseases. Although this condition is often associated with excessive alcohol consumption, it can also affect people who do not drink alcoholic beverages. In these cases, it is called non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD).
NAFLD can develop inflammation and irreversible damage, similar to that caused by other liver diseases, such as cirrhosis and liver tumor.
Causes and risk factors of Hepatic Steatosis
As mentioned, although hepatic steatosis has a marked prevalence in people who drink alcohol in excess, this health problem can also affect people who do not drink alcohol at all. In addition, and although it is more common in older men and postmenopausal women, it also affects between 20% and 50% of obese children.
Typically, people with NAFLD have metabolic syndrome, i.e., they are overweight/obese (and have a lot of fat concentrated in the abdominal area), diabetes (i.e., high blood sugar), and dyslipidemia (high cholesterol and triglycerides, i.e., fat in the blood).
In addition to the risk factors already mentioned, there are other rarer causes of the development of fatty liver. These include:
- Polycystic ovary syndrome;
- Sleep apnea;
- Medications (such as amiodarone, estrogens, corticosteroids, tamoxifen, antiretrovirals);
- Rapid weight loss;
- Artificial forms of nutrition;
- Toxins (chemicals and fungi such as Amanitas phalloides).
Symptoms and consequences of Hepatic Steatosis
In general, hepatic steatosis may not present any symptoms.
However, in some people, it may cause fatigue and pain or discomfort in the right upper quadrant of the abdomen. In addition, it can also cause:
- An enlarged liver;
- Abdominal distension (ascites);
- Enlargement of blood vessels on the surface of the skin;
- Breast enlargement (in men);
- Jaundice (yellow coloration of the skin and sclerae).
In many cases, hepatic steatosis has a benign course and does not represent a serious problem for the well-being and health of the patient.
However, the elderly, diabetics, and those with liver inflammation have a higher risk of liver steatosis progressing to cirrhosis or contributing to the development of other diseases, including cardiovascular disease.
Because hepatic steatosis is usually asymptomatic, an indicator that can help suspect this health problem is increased liver transaminase enzymes (AST, ALT, GGT) in blood tests of obese, diabetic, and/or dyslipidemic patients.
Other times, this problem is diagnosed by performing an abdominal ultrasound that shows a “shiny” liver (due to excess fat) and/or with increased volume (hepatomegaly).
In view of these data, a liver biopsy can be performed to not only confirm the diagnosis, but also to assess the degree of inflammation of the liver, i.e., to determine whether it is a fatty liver or steatohepatitis.
There is no specific treatment for the problem of fatty liver, and recommendations for reversing this diagnosis primarily involve lifestyle changes.
These changes include such measures as:
- Losing weight by reducing the number of calories consumed per day;
- Adopt a balanced diet, consuming little fat, favoring olive oil, reducing the consumption of red meat and increasing the consumption of vegetables, fruits and whole grains ;
- Physical exercise, 3 to 4 times a week, for 30 to 60 minutes a day;
- Do not drink alcoholic beverages;
- Control other diseases such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and dyslipidemia, including taking medications prescribed by your doctor.
To try to prevent fatty liver, you should take the same steps recommended for people who already have fatty liver and want to correct the problem.
So you should look for:
- Maintain a healthy diet;
- Avoid excess weight;
- Exercise regularly;
- Avoid excessive consumption of alcoholic beverages.