When most people think of liver disease, they think of heavy drinkers. Cirrhosis of the liver is definitely most common in alcoholics. But did you know you have a one-in-three chance of developing fatty liver disease even if you don’t drink alcohol? It’s one of the hidden epidemics of our day.
What’s worse is that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease increases the risk of developing liver cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke. So avoiding the disease is vital. Fortunately, there are several nutrients you can take that will help you avoid the disease and its potential consequences....
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) starts with an unhealthy lifestyle. This includes little physical activity and a diet high in fat, sugar, and fructose. While a genetic predisposition can be an underlying cause of fatty liver disease, the number one factor is your weight.
If you’re overweight, it’s likely you’re already dealing with some fatty liver issues. Fortunately, you can treat fatty liver without going to a doctor. Obviously, losing weight has to be your number one priority. Simply losing 5% of your overall weight can reduce the fat content in your liver by up to 30%. While this is a great first step, it’s not enough to reduce the risk of liver inflammation and fibrosis. To do that, an obese person needs to lose at least 10% of their body weight.
The researchers in a recent study said, “If such weight loss cannot be achieved or is insufficient to improve NAFLD, pharmacological treatment should be considered.” But there’s one big problem with this. To date, the FDA hasn’t approved one single drug to treat NAFLD. So what can you do?
Nutrients That Treat NAFLD
In addition to your basic lifestyle changes, including eating a healthy diet and exercising, taking nutrients is one of your best defenses against a fatty liver. When you’ve eaten a poor diet filled with sugar and processed fat, it creates oxidative stress throughout your body. And one of the primary causes of fatty liver disease is oxidative stress.
As you may know, oxidative stress occurs when free radicals damage the tissue. This results in chronic inflammation. Even if you stop the flow of foods that cause oxidative stress, your body still has to heal. And it needs nutrients to do so. One of the best is alpha-lipoic acid (ALA). ALA is an antioxidant powerhouse that helps recharge vitamins C and E.
One recent study looked specifically at how effective ALA is at treating oxidative stress in mice with fatty liver disease. In the study, researchers divided mice into three different groups. The first group ate regular mouse food. The second group ate a diet designed to increase oxidative stress. And the third group ate this same diet, but also took 100 mg/kg/day of ALA.
After two weeks, the researchers took liver samples and examined them for pathohistology, oxidative stress parameters, antioxidative enzymes, and liver free fatty acid (FFA) composition. In all of these areas of examination, the researchers found that the ALA significantly decreased the damage done by the diet.
But that’s not all ALA can do. It helps regenerate damaged liver tissue. Julian Whittaker, MD tells the amazing story of a couple from Cleveland, OH. Back in 1977, the couple unknowingly ate the deadly poisonous amanita mushroom. The poison threw both of them into liver failure and would have killed them if not for the open-minded doctor on call. Burton Berkson, MD was a medical resident at Case Western Reserve. He had never had a patient die under his care. It looked like he would have two die in one day. The hospital had nothing to offer.
Dr. Berkson didn’t just give up. He called Fred Bartter, MD at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to see if he had any suggestions. Dr. Bartter mentioned ALA. He said it had helped animals with severe liver damage. So Dr. Berkson began administering intravenous ALA to the couple. The impact was immediate and miraculous. Not only did it stop the liver damage from killing both of them, it stimulated complete and rapid liver regeneration. It worked so well, the couple was discharged from the hospital just two weeks later. Both of them were in good health and lived another 36 years, well into their late 80s.
So can ALA help with your fatty liver disease? Absolutely!
But it’s not all you can take.
Component of Mediterranean Diet Heals the Liver
You’ve probably heard about the amazing health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. This diet is rich in fish, plant-based foods (such as fruits and vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts), olive oil, and herbs and spices. One of the components of the Mediterranean Diet is a plant called milk thistle. And there are a lot of studies on how this plant can heal the liver. In fact, it doesn’t just help fatty liver disease. It also helps protect against metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and hepatitis. Some research and clinical data suggest it can effectively fight the hepatitis C virus.
Milk thistle helps protect the liver in several different ways. Not only does it shield the liver against free radicals, but it also helps the liver cleanse the blood of toxins. And it helps restore damaged tissue.
The most exciting new data reveals that milk thistle can prevent non-alcoholic fatty liver disease from progressing into non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis is an even more dangerous, progressive condition involving inflammation and fibrosis of liver tissue, producing liver cirrhosis in 20% of people and death in 12%. Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis can also develop into liver failure and may progress to hepatocellular carcinoma, the deadliest and one of the most common forms of liver cancer.
Many studies show that milk thistle and its extracts can prevent the progression of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease into non-alcoholic steatohepatitis. One study in particular showed that milk thistle is more effective than the antidiabetic drug rosiglitazone at stabilizing liver cells’ damaged energy-handling metabolism. And it also was better at improving insulin resistance and reducing oxidative stress. Another study showed that the milk thistle can normalize insulin resistance and reduce cell damage enough that it proved beneficial to both heart and liver tissue in animals with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis.
One recent European study followed patients with metabolic syndrome and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. This study used silymarin (a major component of milk thistle) plus vitamin E. The researchers gave one group the silymarin and vitamin E for 90 days. A second group didn’t receive any treatment. The researchers found that the supplemented group showed significantly greater reductions in abdominal circumference (4.3%), body mass index (2.2%), size of the liver (5.5%), and ultrasound measurements of fat accumulations in their livers (34%), compared with patients in the diet/exercise-only group.
The Final Ingredient in Protecting Your Liver
Finally, there’s one more nutrient you need to add to your liver-protection plan. It’s the mineral selenium. Studies have shown that people with fatty liver disease usually have a significant deficiency of selenium. (Many also have a zinc deficiency as well.) And taking selenium along with milk thistle and ALA can significantly reduce your risk of fatty liver disease.
One study looked at 40 rats. They divided the rats into four groups and gave them (1) a normal-fat diet, (2) a high-fat diet, (3) selenium and zinc supplementation before the rats had NAFLD, and (4) selenium and zinc supplementation after they had NAFLD. They conducted the study for 20 weeks and then examined the results.
The researchers found that not only did the supplements help rats avoid developing fatty liver disease, but they also helped those rats that already had fatty liver disease. It lowered their triglycerides and total cholesterol. And fat accumulation in the diseased rats was significantly reduced.
Since one-in-three adults are going to develop fatty liver disease, it’s vital you incorporate these nutrients in your diet. The combination of alpha lipoic acid, silymarin (from milk thistle), and selenium replenishes glutathione stores, promotes liver cell regeneration, and puts the brakes on viral replication. It can effectively stop fatty liver disease, hepatitis C, and metabolic syndrome. In fact, it has helped many hepatitis C patients avoid going on interferon.
If these three nutrients don’t do the job, which is rare, you can also add phosphatidylcholine, glycyrrhizin (found in licorice), the medical mushroom Royal Agaricus, quercetin, N-Acetyl-L-Cysteine, vitamin E, and zinc. This is one disease where natural health is all you need to treat it. Unless the case is so far gone it requires a liver transplant, natural treatments can and usually do reverse the condition when used in combination with diet and exercise.