One in four Americans suffers from liver disease. Fatty liver disease is the number one cause of liver disease, and affects approximately 20% of Americans. Damage to the liver occurs slowly over the course of years, making it a silent disease. It is often only when signs of the liver not working well occur, that people realize there is problem.
As the name suggests, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD) is fat that deposits itself in the liver cells which is not related to alcohol intake. NAFLD is most often diagnosed incidentally at the time of assessment for other health issues or insurance review. Sometimes a person’s liver enzymes may be slightly higher than normal, indicating the liver cells are irritated, or it may be during an ultrasound for other reasons, that fat is seen in the liver. Your doctor will likely do other blood tests to make sure there are no other causes for liver disease. They may also have you do a test called Fibroscan™ to look for scar tissue and fat content in the liver.
A less common but important type of NAFLD is Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Approximately 20% of individuals with NAFLD will have NASH. NASH is inflammation of the liver tissue (hepatitis) caused by fat in the liver. This is diagnosed by liver biopsy, and requires intervention to slow down ongoing damage to the liver. Over time NASH can lead to liver cancer or cirrhosis (a scarred liver).
Who is at risk of NAFLD? Individuals with obesity, high lipid/cholesterol levels and/or diabetes are more at risk of developing NAFLD. However other things can lead to fat depositing in the liver. These include genetic factors, rapid weight loss often associated with bariatric surgery, starvation, and some medications.
Although there are no current medications that will control NAFLD or NASH, lifestyle changes can lessen long term damage and improve liver fat content and scar tissue. These changes are often difficult to implement, as many factors such as, societal, family and occupational realities exist that make change difficult. Long haul trucking is one of those occupations that is laden with setting individuals up for NAFLD and presents many challenges to its prevention.
A 10% gradual weight loss can lead to improvement in fat content of the liver, however fast food is convenient and quick when you are on the road. Modifying your diet to healthier choices may result in improvement in your overall health. Healthy choices are more difficult to find on the road, but even small changes done over time can help.
Sedentary lifestyle is common, as many occupations such as long-haul trucking require long periods of sitting or inactivity. Studies have shown that both aerobic and anaerobic activity can improve the amount of fat in the liver, even in the absence of weight loss. A quick walk around the parking lot a few times a day, can be beneficial.
For individuals with sleep apnea, using CPAP not only helps with the overall improvement in sleep and decreased fatigue levels, but also helps to support liver health. Those with sleep apnea are more likely to develop NAFLD, so another reason to use your CPAP machine.
Of course, prevention and/or management of diabetes, high cholesterol and high blood pressure are important to overall health but will also lessen the chances of developing NAFLD.
Then there is COFFEE…drinking 3-4 cups of coffee (with minimal cream and sugar) has shown to lower the risk of developing liver disease and liver cancer. Enjoy your coffee!
For more detailed information about NAFLD and lifestyle changes that can be incorporated into anyone’s life, follow Fatty Liver Alliance ( fattyliver.ca). Let us know if you have specific things you would like us to discuss.
About Fatty Liver Alliance
As a not-for-profit organization, we raise awareness and educate about the risks, causes and complications of fatty liver disease and help those already diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), metabolic associated fatty liver disease (MAFLD) and nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) by advocating for access to approved treatments and care.