If you’ve been told you have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), or non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), it may have come as a shock, as many patients only experience mild symptoms once liver damage has occurred.
Most of the time the diagnosis will come after an abdominal ultrasound. Conventional treatments aim to eliminate the causes of NAFLD/NASH using medications, and usually that means long term medication use.
Luckily, there are natural options that also address the root causes, dietary changes that can support long term recovery, natural therapies that reduce liver damage, decrease symptoms, and promising non-drug alternatives to drug-therapies.
What causes NAFLD?
Essentially, some medical conditions (see below) cause liver damage, and increased oxidative damage in the liver, and once the liver cells (hepatocytes) are damaged there is fatty acid infiltration of the liver. The liver becomes damaged and fats accumulate.
This accumulation of fat can cause fibrosis, also known as scarring. Most of the time this is benign, but it does mean that the liver’s function decreases (hepatic insufficiency). If liver damage continues, the long term consequence can be liver cirrhosis, which is rare.
Causes of NASH:
- Insulin resistance
- Dyslipidemia (cholesterol)
- Dysglycemia (blood sugars)
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Protein inadequacy, and malnutrition
- Rapid weight loss
- Excessive abdominal fat
How does NAFLD present?
A Case Study:
Female 35 years old. Patient personal identifiers not given, to maintain confidentiality.
Symptoms of heartburn, bloating, early fullness when eating, and difficulties losing weight. The patient was diagnosed with mild fatty liver and gallstones following an abdominal ultrasound. The patient was prescribed an antacid medication (Proton pump inhibitor – surprise surprise…), told to lose weight, and eat less fat.
This patient felt hopeless with her symptoms, diagnosis and the treatments offered. She did not want to take more medications. She was already eating a low fat diet. Weight loss was not occurring despite her best efforts. Obesity is a factor, but she has been trying for a year without any success to lose weight.
She wanted to learn WHY this was happening to her. She wanted an alternative perspective. A second opinion.
After taking the time to explain what fatty liver is, risk factors for development, and how it can affect the digestive system, this patient had the clarity that she was looking for. She was ready to discuss next steps!
The Treatment Plan
We decided to run baseline blood work to assess for liver enzyme levels, to determine the severity of liver damage that is occurring due to fatty infiltration. Additionally, we decided to assess blood sugar, cholesterol levels, and hormone levels including thyroid function.
We also started a protocol of evidence-informed herbs, antioxidants, and vitamins for liver function.
We discussed diet, exercise, and weight loss goals. Knowing that obesity is a factor, we want to work on modest weight loss, and address the obstacles that are getting in the way currently.
We discussed emotions, anxiety, and anger, and how these are also connected to the liver. Traditional Chinese medicine connects the liver meridian to the emotions of frustration, anger and irritability. We discussed past traumas, both physical and emotional.
Taking a holistic approach to patient care enables the patient to better understand the disease process, set realistic goals and to advocate for themselves in future appointments and in the medical system. Natural therapies have been shown in the literature, and in my personal clinical experience, to improve function, reduce symptoms, and improve blood biomarker enzyme levels. It does take time, and diligence, and a commitment to long term health, but successes are possible!
If you’ve been diagnosed with fatty liver and are looking for support, Dr. Spark can help.