Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
What is Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is a condition where fat deposits build up in the liver in patients with little or no alcohol intake and with no other known cause. NAFLD is closely associated with obesity. While poor dietary choices are often to blame, genetic factors may also contribute.
As the condition is generally asymptomatic or has very mild symptoms initially, many people do not know they have it unless a blood test detects abnormal levels of liver enzymes. NAFLD may progress to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), which can then progress to cirrhosis, fibrosis, liver failure, and even liver cancer.
Natural interventions such as vitamin E and milk thistle may help protect the liver and even halt or reverse disease progression.
What are the Risk Factors for Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?
- Insulin resistance/diabetes
- Metabolic syndrome
- Increased fructose consumption
What are Conventional Treatments for Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?
Note: NAFLD is generally treated with dietary and lifestyle changes, not pharmaceutical interventions. Health practitioners may encourage patients with NAFLD to:
- Engage in slow and steady weight loss
- Engage in regular physical activity
- Refrain from drinking alcohol
What are Emerging Therapies for Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?
- Metformin, a drug generally used to treat diabetes, has been shown in several studies to dramatically improve liver blood flow, reduce markers of liver cell death, and reduce the prevalence and severity of fatty liver.
What Natural Interventions May Be Beneficial for Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease?
- Vitamin E. People with fatty liver disease and NASH have depressed levels of vitamin E. Vitamin E has been shown to reduce levels of liver cell-injury markers, liver fat levels, and inflammation, and improve the appearance of liver tissue on biopsies.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. People with insufficient dietary intake of omega-3 fatty acids are more prone to NAFLD. A clinical trial revealed that supplementation decreased serum markers of liver cell damage, triglyceride levels, and fasting glucose. Supplemented patients also showed improvement of their livers’ appearance and blood flow.
- S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe). Oxidative damage depletes liver glutathione levels. Supplementation with SAMe increased glutathione levels in patients with NAFLD and prevented relatively mild NAFLD from progressing to NASH.
- N-acetylcysteine (NAC). NAC boosts glutathione levels. The combination of NAC with metformin improved liver appearance and reduced fibrosis in patients with NAFLD.
- Milk thistle. Milk thistle has long been used for protecting the liver. Silymarin, an extract of milk thistle, combined with vitamin E and phospholipids (like phosphatidylcholine), improved insulin resistance, reduced liver fat accumulation, and decreased markers of liver scarring.
- Phosphatidylcholine. Higher amounts of phosphatidylcholine in cell membranes help limit the progression of NAFLD to NASH. A rich source of phosphatidylcholine derived from soybeans, polyenylphosphatidylcholine (PPC) supplements in animals attenuated nonalcoholic liver fibrosis and even accelerated its regression.
- Resveratrol. Resveratrol can protect liver tissue from alcoholic fatty liver disease, and its mechanisms may also apply to NAFLD. In animal studies, resveratrol reduced liver fat accumulation and insulin resistance.