Endocrinologist Paula Pires reveals what causes fat in the liver

Endocrinologist Paula Pires reveals what causes fat in the liver

When thinking about fat in the liver, it is normal to associate it with fatty foods, such as French fries, breaded meat, bacon, lard, chocolate or fried fish. But this is where a dangerous mistake can reside. According to endocrinologist Paula Pires, what actually increases fat in the liver are carbohydrates, such as bread, pasta, sweets and cookies.

According to the doctor, the liver performs a series of functions in our body, such as helping the digestion of fats and storing some vitamins and minerals. “It is an organ that is completely involved with the processing of carbohydrates, proteins and lipids, and one of its functions is to analyze whether the ingested nutrients will be used to give energy to your body, in addition to the functions it needs to perform, or if it will be stored” , account.

“When we consume a lot of carbohydrate, our body needs to produce excess insulin for this carbohydrate to enter the cell to generate energy. If we have a lot of insulin in our body, soon it will say that this energy can be stored, which will make the accumulation of fat happen, even in the liver”, explains Paula.

After all, what is liver fat?

This is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) or fatty liver. “NAFLD is a condition where there is too much fat accumulated in the liver. If left untreated, it can lead to serious liver problems like non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). The latter is caused when this extra fat turns into inflammation (swelling in the liver) and fibrosis (scarring) of the liver”, he says.

When severe enough, the condition can lead to cirrhosis or liver cancer, necessitating an organ transplant.

The liver performs a number of functions in our body, such as helping the digestion of fats and storing some vitamins and minerals.

Paula mentions some causes for the disease, such as weight gain, physical inactivity, insulin resistance, genetics and an unhealthy lifestyle. When inflamed, the liver can evolve with several complications such as type 2 diabetes, hepatitis and even cirrhosis.

How to prevent?

“The more severe NASH becomes, the more difficult it is to manage,” warns the expert. The amount of fat in the liver can be reduced through nutrition, physical activity and adequate sleep. “This can help NAFLD and NASH at all stages,” she says.

Although there are no approved therapies, lifestyle modification through nutrition and physical activity is recommended, as Paula teaches below:

  • Healthy food choices by limiting portion sizes;
  • Be physically active;
  • Read nutrition labels to find hidden fat, sugar and sodium;
  • Aim for five servings of fruits and vegetables a day;
  • Eat fiber-rich foods, including whole grains;
  • Use extra virgin olive oil as the main added fat;
  • Consume fish two to three times a week;
  • Swap sugary drinks and sodas for water or low-calorie drinks;
  • Stay away from fast foods and fried foods;
  • Avoid saturated fatty acids.

See, in the infographic below, the foods that should be prioritized in the diet for liver fat:

liver fat diet foods

However, it is worth noting that the fats we ingest can also increase fat in the liver, in the same way as alcoholic beverages. “All excess calories can be stored in the form of fat in the liver”, he summarizes.

“Practice 60 minutes of physical activity a day. It doesn’t have to be everything at the same time. Walk more, exercise, climb stairs whenever possible”, suggests the doctor.

Although genetics influence this factor (people who tend to have more fat in their liver than others), the professional reiterates that the main trigger is truly an unhealthy lifestyle.

The fats we eat can also increase fat in the liver, as do alcoholic beverages.

The disease, as she explains, is not normal, but unfortunately, it is very common. “More than 75 million people in the US alone have this condition,” she justifies.

When and who to turn to?

According to the endocrinologist, to diagnose this condition, one can consult with a general practitioner, endocrinologist or gastroenterologist. “But as it is something very common, any doctor can make the diagnosis and start the initial guidelines”, says Paula.

The specialist comments that not always the patient with fat in the liver will show symptoms. “In cases where the fat in the liver is not at high levels, he probably won’t even show signs of the condition,” she says. But among the signs are: pain in the abdomen, swollen belly, enlarged liver, constant headache, tiredness, weakness and loss of appetite.

Paula points out that, in the most serious cases, the patient with fatty liver may have jaundice, swelling in the legs and feet and bleeding.

Fat in the liver
Fat in the liver

The doctor states that there are several tests to diagnose NAFLD/NASH, which include general medical history/tests, blood tests, imaging tests such as abdominal ultrasound or abdominal MRI, and liver biopsy.

Regarding drugs for this disease, the endocrinologist says that there are still no approved drugs for NAFLD/NASH, but there are several in clinical trials to be tested for approval. “In the early stages, it is possible to prevent it from progressing to severe liver damage by changing your lifestyle, focusing on physical activity and nutrition.”

Miracle teas?

It is believed that teas, such as green tea, artichoke, milk thistle, garlic with lemon and ginger with cocoa and cinnamon, can fight fatty liver. However, according to the professional, this is a myth. “No single substance can combat this problem, but the improvement of the lifestyle as a whole. Remembering that teas and herbal medicines in excess can be toxic to the liver and cause even more liver damage”, she assures.

“Today, fat in the liver can be considered a chronic, complex and difficult to treat metabolic condition, as it is closely associated with overweight, obesity and insulin resistance. The cure will come if the person really changes their lifestyle completely”, delivers Paula Pires.

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