If you're not a big drinker, you may not give much thought to the health of your liver. But there might be a reason to be concerned. An estimated 64 million Americans have an often-symptomless liver condition called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which may put them at risk not only for serious liver disease but for heart disease as well.
A Silent threat
NAFLD affects people of all ages. A majority of people with the condition have what are known as simple fatty liver, which is just an accumulation of fat cells in the liver. But over time, some people go on to develop a more serious version of the disease, known as nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH. Problems with the liver aren't the only concern related to NAFLD. People with NAFLD are also more likely than others to develop dangerous plaque inside the heart's arteries that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.
A risky condition
Your risk of NAFLD is influenced by a combination of factors. Risk factors for NAFLD include obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, a larger waist circumference, and a family history of fatty liver disease.
Most people who have NAFLD won't have symptoms and only learn they have the condition after they have blood tests performed as part of an annual physical or insurance examination.
Early-stage liver problems can improve quickly, and it is even possible to reverse liver scarring before it gets to the advanced stage, simply by making lifestyle changes. These include the following:
If you have mild NAFLD that shows fat without inflammation, losing just 5% of your body weight may be enough to reverse it. If you have more inflammation, losing 7% to 10% of your body weight can reverse it.
Even without weight loss, exercise improves your metabolic profile and decreases insulin levels. Exercise can be as simple as walking. Any regular movement makes a difference. Government recommendations call for at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, which is an exercise that makes you breathe heavily enough that you can talk, but not sing. But even a smaller amount can help, and you can build from there.
Improve your diet
If possible, try to adopt a Mediterranean-style diet, which is one that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, and healthy fats. Also try to cut down on juices, sodas, and sugars, including fructose, which has been linked to liver inflammation
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