Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a medical condition characterized by the accumulation of excess fat in the liver of people who consume little to no alcohol. It is one of the most common liver disorders worldwide and can range from simple fatty liver (aka steatosis) to more severe forms of the disease, such as non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (aka NASH), which can lead to liver damage. Here are some key points about NAFLD:
The exact cause of NAFLD is not fully understood, but it is strongly associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and metabolic syndrome. Other risk factors include diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, rapid weight loss, and a sedentary lifestyle. Recently, NAFLD has been found to be linked to Covid-19 infection and spike protein damage.
In its early stages, NAFLD often has no noticeable symptoms. As it progresses, individuals may experience fatigue, abdominal discomfort, and enlarged liver. In advanced stages, symptoms can mimic those of cirrhosis, including jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), abdominal swelling, and confusion.
NAFLD is typically diagnosed by first finding an elevation of the liver enzymes AST and ALT on a metabolic blood panel. The diagnosis can be confirmed by imaging studies like ultrasound, CT scans, or MRI. A liver biopsy may be required in some cases to confirm the diagnosis and assess the severity of liver damage.
Naturopathic treatment of NAFLD focuses on identifying and treating the underlying cause. In patients where diet and lifestyle are found to be the main cause, medical advice often includes losing weight (if overweight or obese), adopting a healthy diet, increasing physical activity, and managing underlying conditions like diabetes and high blood pressure. For some patients, food intolerance testing/food removal is the key to lowering liver inflammation. We also often use a combination of herbs that have specific anti-inflammatory effects in the liver. Some of the most common supplements and herbs used are milk thistle, dandelion root, black radish, curcumin, and NAC (n-acetyl cysteine). For patients with Covid-related fatty liver disease, a different combination of supplements is often needed.
It’s essential for individuals with NAFLD to work closely with their doctor to develop a personalized treatment and management plan to prevent the progression of the disease and minimize the risk of complications. Regular monitoring and follow-up are crucial in managing NAFLD effectively. NAFLD is a reversible condition when the right diet, lifestyle, and supplemental protocol are followed.
Dr. Katie Nuckolls is a naturopathic physician and owner of Thrive GI: Natural Digestive Medicine in Vancouver, Washington. She currently sees patients that live in Washington, Oregon, and Arizona using telemedicine. Starting in October 2023 she will offer in-office visits for patients living in the Vancouver/Portland metro area. For more information, visit our contact page or schedule a free 15-minute consultation online.