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Obesity - Not Just a Fat Belly - Fat Is Trouble For Your Liver

When fat builds up, the liver can become inflamed and then scarred over time, leading to cirrhosis, liver failure or even liver cancer. If cirrhosis has not yet developed, fatty liver disease can be reversed through weight loss. In a new and disturbing twist on the epidemic, some overweight teenagers have severe liver damage caused by too much body fat, and a handful have needed liver transplants.

Many more may need a new liver by their 30s or 40s, say experts warning that pediatricians and parents need to be more vigilant. The condition, identical to NASH seen in adults, which can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure or liver cancer, is being seen in kids in the United States, Europe, Australia and even some developing countries.

Some experts think as many as 10 percent of all children and half of those who are obese may suffer from fatty liver disease and some of these are at risk of developing NASH, the most severe form. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that doctors do a blood test of liver enzymes every two years on obese children and overweight ones with high blood pressure or cholesterol or family history of heart disease in order to detect those at risk. A liver biopsy is the only sure way to diagnose this disease. Fatty liver disease can be reversed through weight loss.

Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) and Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH)

Fat accumulation in the liver in individuals who do not drink alcohol, is called nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). As a consequence of the on-going obesity epidemic in the U.S., fatty liver is a very common disorder with an estimated two thirds of obese adults and half of obese children having fat accumulation in the liver. Up to 20% of those who are obese may suffer from a more severe condition called non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, (NASH). This occurs when fat build up in the liver is associated with liver cell inflammation and various degrees of liver cell death called cirrhosis. In many of those affected by NAFLD, obesity may be the only warning of a fatty liver. Some people may have a slightly enlarged liver, feel tired and have some abdominal pain. However, fatty liver is suspected when a blood test of specific liver enzymes (serum aminotransferase enzymes) is elevated in an individual who is obese. Fatty liver can be confirmed by an ultrasound examination of the liver or by liver biopsy.
Read More: NAFLD Article

Fatty Liver - Fats and Your Liver - Tough to Handle

Fat that accumulates in tiny globules within the liver cells, called triglycerides, can cause inflammation and destroy liver cells.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) refers to several liver disease ranging from simple fatty liver (steatosis), to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver). All of the stages of NAFLD have in common the accumulation of fat (fatty infiltration) in the liver cells (hepatocytes). In NASH, the fat accumulation is associated with varying degrees of inflammation (hepatitis) and scarring (fibrosis) of the liver.

The inflammatory cells can destroy the liver cells (hepatocellular necrosis). In the terms "steatohepatitis" and "steatonecrosis", steato refers to fatty infiltration, hepatitis refers to inflammation in the liver, and necrosis refers to destroyed liver cells. Strong evidence suggests that NASH, in contrast to simple fatty liver, is not a harmless condition. This means that NASH can ultimately lead to scarring of the liver (fibrosis) and then advanced scarring (cirrhosis) which may be irreversible. Cirrhosis that is caused by NASH is the last and most severe stage in the NAFLD spectrum.

Much is not yet known about NASH and NAFLD. For example, as discussed below, the progression from each of the different stages of NAFLD is not well understood. Nevertheless, individuals who develop any of the three stages of NAFLD (fatty liver, NASH, or cirrhosis) share common risk factors.

Good Fats and Bad Fats - Know the Difference

Know the difference between good fats and bad fats for your liver and your health. A lot depends on the choices you make in what you eat.

Certain fat-soluble vitamins are processed with the help of bile made in the liver and are essential to maintaining strong bones and other vitally important body functions, such as the ability of the blood to clot. However; some types of fat are bad for your health (not to mention your waistline).

There are some fats we simply cannot live without. These include the omega-3 fatty acids, found in foods including walnuts, some fruits and vegetables, and cold water fish such as herring, mackerel, sturgeon, and anchovies.

The benefits of omega-3s include reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke while helping to reduce symptoms of hypertension. Some data suggest they may help depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), joint pain and other rheumatoid problems, as well as certain skin ailments. Some research has even shown that omega-3s can boost the immune system and help protect us from an array of illnesses including Alzheimer's disease.

Fats also encourage the production of body chemicals that help control inflammation -- in the joints, the bloodstream, and the tissues. Omega-6 fatty acids are essential and found in foods such as;
  • eggs,
  • poultry,
  • cereals,
  • vegetable oils,
  • baked goods, and
  • margarine,
They support skin health, lower cholesterol, and help make our blood "sticky" so it is able to clot. But when omega-6s aren't balanced with sufficient amounts of omega-3s, problems can ensue. Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to lower triglycerides, which are a type of fat in the bloodstream, fat cells, and liver cells. Experts aren't sure of the exact mechanism. Omega-3 fatty acids may also slow down the growth of plaques in the arteries and reduce inflammation throughout the body. The latest research shows that the most promising health effects of essential fatty acids are achieved through a proper balance between omega-3s and omega-6s.

Diet and Your Liver

The food you eat is the fuel for your personal engine your liver.

The liver is involved in the metabolism of all foods. Metabolism is the conversion of food into energy. The body stores carbohydrates in the form of glycogen. Increasing carbohydrates in the diet helps preserve glycogen stores. Proteins normally help the body repair tissue. They also prevent fatty buildup and damage to the liver cells. Liver disease can affect the absorption of food and the production of proteins and vitamins, your diet may influence your weight, appetite, and the amounts of vitamins in your body. In people with severely damaged livers, proteins are not properly processed. Waste products may build up and affect the brain. Salt in the diet may worsen fluid buildup and swelling in the liver, because salt causes the body to retain water.

Hepatitis Foundation International 504 Blick Drive, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904 1-800-891-0707 info@partnersinliverwellness.org