The liver is one of the most important organs in our body, known for its elasticity and vital filtration function. It may be surprising to learn that the liver is in fact the largest glandular organ in the human body and second largest organ after our skin (trick question, we know). The liver effortlessly performs over 200 vital functions that keep us going each and every day.

Most pertinently, 5% of the human liver is typically made up of fat. Some fat is good for us. It adds essential cushioning and protects our vital organs from harm. But much like extra weight on the hips or stomach, too much fat on the liver isn't a good look for such a glamorous organ. In fact, fatty liver disease can cause a variety of health problems that will persist in severity unless treated.

Fatty liver disease is often underdiagnosed due to the subtlety of the initial symptoms. Furthermore, this condition affects a wide variety of individuals and isn't nearly as obvious as other gastrointestinal ailments. 

If you've been experiencing GI pain, baffling digestive problems, or simply feel in need of an expert opinion, our caring team is here to help. Your guts are our business at Carolina Digestive Health. We've broken down exactly what fatty liver disease is, the symptoms of fatty liver disease, and how you can identify whether you're at risk of developing this condition.

The sooner fatty liver disease is diagnosed, the sooner you can begin working with a specialist on reversing the condition. Start feeling better, living healthier, and loving your liver.

What is Fatty Liver Disease?


Fatty liver disease occurs when more than 5% of the liver is comprised of fatty tissue deposits. An excess of fat on the liver places stress on the organ and leads to fibrosis, scar tissue, and inflammation that slowly kills off healthy liver cells. If left untreated, fatty liver disease can lead to cirrhosis of the liver and ultimately liver failure.

Luckily, gastrointestinal healthcare professionals are discovering more and more about this disease every day so early intervention can begin. Roughly 25% of individuals worldwide suffer from fatty liver disease. There are two main types of fatty liver disease to be aware of; Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcoholic fatty liver disease (ALFD). While both conditions arise from a different set of symptoms and present differently, both types of fatty liver disease are reversible. 

Working with a GI specialist is the first step in treating fatty liver disease.

Healthy vs Fatty Liver

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Fatty Liver Disease


Fatty liver disease is often undiagnosed due to a lack of symptoms. Learning to identify the symptoms of fatty liver disease early on means an easier recovery process with swift, efficient treatment. 

ALFD may sometimes present as more acute and obvious than NAFLD. Those with a history of heavy drinking should be aware of the symptoms of liver damage. Many notice a slower recovery from alcohol binges and may also note:

  • Pain in the upper right side of the abdomen (swollen liver)
  • Fatigue and worsened hangover symptoms.
  • Increased nausea and vomiting.
  • Weight loss and loss of appetite.

These symptoms are also present in diagnosing NAFLD. Symptoms of NAFLD may occur slowly and with less of an obvious trigger. NAFLD symptoms include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Nosebleeds
  • Itchy skin
  • Yellow skin and eyes
  • Web-like clusters of blood vessels under the skin
  • Abdominal pain
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Swelling of the legs
  • Breast enlargement in men
  • Confusion

Fatty liver disease is initially diagnosed via a blood test that observes elevated liver enzymes. If enzymes are indeed elevated, an ultrasound or MRI may be used to confirm the disease as well as its progression.

Who is at Risk for Fatty Liver Disease?


Fatty liver disease affects a wide variety of individuals. However, there are some commonalities that signify high-risk factors. Excessive alcohol consumption is an obvious risk factor when it comes to AFLD. NAFLD can be more subtle, but certain statistics do exist to guide diagnosis and treatment.

A high BMI (body mass index) had been linked to an increased risk of NAFLD. Overweight individuals are3.55 times more likely to develop fatty liver syndrome, while obese individuals are 7.59 times more likely. Additional high-risk factors include those with Type 2 Diabetes, high blood pressure, patients who smoke, high cholesterol, patients who have an impaired digestive tract or weakened immune system, and insulin resistance.

If you meet any of the above criteria, let your healthcare provider know if you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms.

Fatty Liver Disease Reversal and Treatment


The liver is one of the most "elastic" organs in the body. This super organ is highly resilient and has the ability to reverse the damage done to it, including the effects of fatty liver disease. This is best accomplished by treating the underlying pathology. After all, no liver goes bad on its own. Our organs want to do the best they can for us. Sometimes they (and we) just need a little help.

Following a healthy diet that may include weight loss if BMI adds an increased risk factor is essential in reversing fatty liver disease. A doctor-approved diet will typically include low or no alcohol consumption, low carbohydrates (especially refined carbohydrates), low sugar and processed fats, and high in liver-friendly foods such as proteins, probiotics, and antioxidants. Many NAFLD patients thrive on a ketogenic diet or a low-glycemic index diet. In fact, some studiesfound that healing was measurable in only 12 weeks.

A manageable exercise routine is also recommended for optimal liver health. Cross-training and HIIT programs are especially beneficial in providing strength training for those seeking to lose weight rapidly and safely, with sustainable results. 

Supplements and liver-friendly food choices should also be added to your daily dietary regime. These may include green tea, milk thistle supplements, whey protein, dandelion, soluble fiber, healthy fats like avocado, and berberine supplements.

There's no need to live with digestive pain and discomfort. If your gut is telling you to see a specialist, schedule your next appointment with our team today and start feeling better tomorrow.