Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) happens when extra fat builds up in your liver. NAFLD is one of the most common liver diseases in the United States. It can be classified into two types:

NAFL (Nonalcoholic fatty liver)

Nonalcoholic fatty liver, or NAFL, means that your liver contains excess fat but little to no inflammation. This type of NAFLD usually does not cause liver damage but may cause pain due to the liver being larger than normal. Most people with NAFLD have NAFL.

NASH (Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis)

Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) means that there is inflammation, as well as extra fat, in your liver. This damage can cause permanent scarring and lead to liver cancer. NASH is much less common than NAFL.

Risk and Prevention

The cause of NAFLD is unknown. However, your genetics, eating plan and certain health conditions may increase your chance of developing the disease. Factors that can make you more likely to develop NAFLD include:

  • Being overweight or obese
  • Having type 2 diabetes
  • Being insulin resistant
  • High levels of triglycerides
  • Abnormal cholesterol levels
  • Having metabolic syndrome
  • Having polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Physical inactivity
  • Consuming high amounts of sugar

You may be able to prevent NAFLD from developing. Behaviors that may help offset NAFLD include:

Regular physical activity Engaging in physical activity reduces inflammation and improves liver function. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity each week.
Eating a healthy diet: Prioritize foods with a low-glycemic index, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Restrict saturated fats, trans fats and simple sugars.
Limiting portion sizes: Eating too many calories can lead to overweight and obesity, which are highly associated with NAFLD. Ensure there is a balance between your activity level and how much you are consuming.
Maintaining a healthy weight: NAFLD is more common in people who have overweight and obesity. Try to keep your weight within the recommended range for body mass index (BMI).
Treatment
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Gradual weight loss through lifestyle changes is recommended to treat both types of NAFLD. Losing weight can reduce fat, inflammation and scarring in the liver. A combination of approaches to weight loss may be most effective for NAFLD treatment. There is no medicine approved for NAFLD treatment. However, anti-obesity and antidiabetic drugs can help reduce fat in the liver and improve insulin resistance. Recommended treatment options include:

Healthy Meals:

Eating less calories and fat can improve gut health and insulin resistance for those with NAFLD. Limiting sugars is also recommended.

Physical Activity:

Exercise helps reduce fat in the liver, even without losing weight. Try to achieve 150 minutes each week, though every minute of activity counts!

Resources

National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases – Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) & NASH.

Mayo Clinic – Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.

CDC – The Connection Between Type 2 Diabetes and Liver Disease.

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