It has been estimated that up to 30% of Australians suffer from NAFLD
Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Now, you’d think this disease would affect overweight people only, but in truth, it affects slim people just as much. What is even more horrifying, it that it is affecting children as young as two years old! And it’s a lifestyle disease.
So what are the symptoms? The scary thing is: there really isn’t any. It is often asymptomatic. Apart from feeling a bit tired or fatigued, having abdominal discomfort, bloating, and sometimes nausea, the way this disease is usually picked up, is by blood test. It is often discovered when other illnesses and diseases are being tested for or a person goes in for a routine blood test and elevated liver enzymes show. Diagnosis is confirmed after all other liver diseases are ruled out and an ultrasound has been performed.
So what exactly is Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)? According to medical dictionary’s, it is one of the causes of fatty liver, occurring when fat is deposited (steatosis) in the liver due to causes other than excessive alcohol use.
It is the liver expression of metabolic syndrome.
Now, you might be reading this and thinking: I still don’t get it. What does this mean? Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Does that mean someone who doesn’t drink alcohol at all or someone who isn’t an alcoholic? Because having 1-3 drinks per night doesn’t make me an alcoholic.
So let’s define alcohol consumption. A standard Australian drink is 110ml of wine or 375ml beer. For women, chronic alcohol consumption is 2 standard drinks per day and for men, it is 3 x 375ml mid strength beers per day. Isn’t that sobering (pun intended).
How many people take the time and effort to measure out 110ml exactly? A standard wine glass bought from any department or specialty store holds anywhere from 400ml up to 800ml. How many people will only fill up one single glass at the 110ml level?
It’s true, you don’t have to be an alcoholic to have fatty liver but there are certain risk factors that contribute to the increased incidence of developing NAFLD.
I’ll go through the risk factors and then I’ll explain a little something about stress that will really knock your socks off.
• Gastric bypass surgery
• High cholesterol
• High levels of triglycerides in the blood
• Metabolic syndrome
• Polycystic ovary syndrome
• Sleep apnea
• Type 2 diabetes
• Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
• Underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)
• Environmental Toxins
• Family history
• Insulin resistance
• Sedentary lifestyle
• Medications (tamoxifen, synthetic estrogens, corticosteroids, antiretrovirals and more)
• Gut function and gut microbiome
• Small intestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO)
• Increased intestinal permeability
• Lack of oxygenation
• High sugar and fat in circulation
• Stress – particularly the fight/flight response
That’s quite a list of risk factors and one I’d like to discuss is stress. The kind of stress that gets your heart pumping and your adrenal glands firing. So here’s why this is so important:
We live in a vastly different world than our ancestors did, even 50 years ago. Our foods have a much higher energy value (calorie) than they used to. Our portion sizes are often too large for the amount of energy expenditure we use. We are also eating far more than we used to. Many of us eat breakfast, lunch, dinner, morning and afternoon tea, snacks and an after dinner snack. Yet we do not do enough physical exercise to use up the energy intake. So, our clever bodies have a way of dealing with all this extra energy. It stores it in the liver for us to use at a later date.
So as we go about our day, we might have to drive to work. Whilst we are driving in peak traffic, Mr Inconsiderate cuts us off and we get angry at him. Our heart races and we feel the familiar rush of adrenaline. Yet, instead of running away or fighting for our life, we stay sitting in the car, fuming. Now, we might experience multiple fight/flight responses on our trip to work. We might even experience one as we attempt to park our car.
As we continue through our day, we might be irritated with a co-worker or our boss. Or we have a deadline. Again, our fight/flight response might be triggered multiple times per day.
The process repeats many times throughout the day, day in, day out. This goes on for years. So why is this kind of stress response so negative for our health and what does it have to do with fatty liver? Well, that’s a great question!
When we undergo a fight/flight stress response, our body mobilizes all that fat and sugar it has so lovingly stored for us, into our bloodstream so that we can use it to fight for our life or run away fleeing for our life. Except we rarely do any form of exercise to use up that released sugar and fat as it’s released. So, the body reabsorbs it again, but where does it reabsorb it to? You guessed it! The liver. When you consider how many times a day, you go through a fight/flight response, and then become consciously aware of how many times your body releases stored sugars and fats for you to use, it is kind of shocking isn’t it.
One of the things you can do, if you are in a physical position to do so, is jump up and down on the spot doing star jumps/jumping jacks or running on the spot for 30 seconds to use up the released sugars and fats. Or, you can take deep breaths – which is a better idea, as NALFD is also caused by lack of oxygen! We need to oxygenate our body more.
A lot of us have become shallow breathers. We only breathe with the top part of our lungs, and not with our whole diaphragm. You know you’re doing deep breathing when your tummy moves in and out also.
Next time, Mr Inconsiderate cuts you off, ask yourself, is it important to get angry at him? Did me getting angry at him change the situation in any way? Or did it hurt me by releasing sugars and fats I won’t use right now, thus contributing to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and cardio vascular disease (because of the rise in blood pressure and chemicals that trigger cancer cells to grow and heart disease to develop)?
If you have been diagnosed with NAFLD and your GP tells you there is nothing you can do about it – remember, they are saying there is nothing medically that can be done about it at this stage. You can always take responsibility for your own health at any stage in your life.
Increase the amounts of vegetables you consume, particularly green leafy vegetables. Cut out alcohol and reduce/eliminate coffee intake. Start supplementing with Vitamin D*, Vitamin K** and low dose natural Vitamin E (such as Sunfoods Tocotrienols).
Cut out chemical forms of fructose and start increasing fruit intake. Chemical fructose is vastly different to natural fruit source fructose.
Eliminate all aspartame and caramel colours.
Fats ain’t fats! Saturated fats are not great for you by any means, unless it comes from coconuts. In saying that, 1-3 tablespoons per day is more than enough for an adult to be consuming. Animal products contain saturated fats that are just not doing your body any good. If you are in every other country in the world, except Australia, please add in some hempseed oil. It is illegal for Australians to consume hempseed products. Our Government believes it to be a dangerous drug.
Cut out bakery goods; cakes, muffins, cookies, breads, sausage rolls, pies, pastries and especially those flaky freshly baked croissants. This is all simple carbohydrates that are contributing to more than just NAFLD. Your taste buds might love them, but your body does not need them.
Increase your carotenoid antioxidants. This is from red, orange, yellow fruits and vegies. Get them in as natural a state as possible. Try to have more salads and dress them up with dressings, seeds, nuts, even fruit!
Many people will benefit from supplementing with glutathione. NAC*** is a precursor of glutathione, the most powerful antioxidant in the liver. It is in powder form and readily absorbed.
Increase your Vitamin C intake. Have more citrus fruit, tomatoes and supplement with chlorella powder (not tablets).
Get your gut in good shape. Speak to your Natural Health Practitioner or Naturopath about which probiotic is right for you. You will also need a good supply of prebiotics before you supplement with probiotics.
Other nutritionals that will be of major benefit are choline, taurine, carnitine, herbal preparation of Milk Thistle, broccoli sprout powder, alpha lipoic acid^, Activated B complex.
The most important health measure I can recommend is exercise! Burning around 400 calories per exercise session is ideal 2-3 times per week. Why not have a dance session at home? Groove along to your favourite tunes in your living room. Go for a long brisk walk so that you are puffing but still able to have a conversation. Go swimming, invest in a rowing machine, start an exercise group. Do anything that gets you moving and keeps you motivated.
All in all, it’s time for us to take back our own power, to take responsibility for our health and know that we can obtain good health.
*Vitamin D is contraindicated in those taking Digoxin
** Vitamin K is contraindicated in those taking Warfarin
*** NAC is only available via Practitioner
^ Alpha lipoic acid only under Practitioner supervision/advice