If you've been told you have a build-up of fat on your liver but don't drink to excess, the diagnosis may be puzzling. In fact, non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD), which isn't caused by overdoing it on the booze, is surprisingly common. According to the NHS, as many as one in three people in the UK have early signs of NAFLD.
Fortunately, most cases can be prevented and even reversed. “Ninety-five per cent of all liver disease is preventable via lifestyle interventions,” says Sarah Matthews, a spokesperson for the British Liver Trust.
10 ways to look after your liver
Lose weight and eat healthily
As might be expected, NAFLD usually affects people who are overweight or obese. People who tend to carry fat around their waistline are most at risk. If your body mass index (BMI) exceeds 25, losing weight is essential if you want to reverse your fatty liver. Studies show that losing 10% of your bodyweight can trigger positive enzyme changes in the liver and trim away the excess fat reserves.
Food-wise, cut out or cut down on refined sugar – diets high in the white stuff have been linked to NAFLD. Stick to a varied, balanced diet rich in fruit, vegetables, wholegrains and oily fish, and low in saturated fat, refined carbs and red meat, and try to burn more calories than you consume by eating fewer calorie-dense foods.
10 ways to eat less sugar without even noticing
Take regular exercise
Whether you end up losing weight or not, frequent exercise can help prevent and reverse NAFLD according to the experts. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week if you can, or 150 minutes as and when you like.
Fat-burning cardio and weight training exercises are best. Exercises that raise the heart rate such as brisk walking, jogging or Zumba, and resistance training using bodyweight, free weights or weight machines melt away excess calories and will help you lose weight most effectively.
Nb. Always consult your GP before beginning a new exercise regime.
An aerobic workout you can do anywhere
Cut down on drinking
Although fatty liver isn't caused by alcohol, drinking to excess or anything else that puts undue stress on the liver for that matter, won't do your NAFLD any favours. And you really don't want to develop alcoholic fatty liver (ARLD) on top of your NAFLD.
As per the official NHS advice, limit your alcohol intake to 14 units a week, spread as evenly as possible over the seven days – binge drinking is particularly harmful for the liver. This advice applies to both men and women. Just to remind you, a large glass of wine contains three units of alcohol, a pint of lager has two, while a single shot of spirit contains one unit.
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Likewise, while smoking isn't a direct cause of NAFLD, it's a major risk factor for the condition according to the British Liver Trust, and a number of studies indicate that smoking exacerbates NAFLD.
Whether you smoke five or 20 a day, giving up the ciggies will do wonders for the health of your liver, as well as for your overall health and wellbeing. Get the ball rolling today by visiting the NHS Smokefree site and signing up for the free Quit Kit. www.nhs.uk/smokefree
Get risk factor conditions treated
A number of chronic health conditions can make your fatty liver worse if they're left untreated or aren't properly treated. These include high blood pressure, high LDL (bad) cholesterol and type 2 diabetes.
Getting the right treatment for these conditions is key, so make sure you're aware of the signs and symptoms to look out for and if you have been diagnosed, it's vitally important you stick to your medication routine as outlined by your GP by taking the right dose of prescription drugs at the right time.
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