Gale Maleskey, MS, RD
March 18, 2011
If you have diabetes or metabolic syndrome, you’re at increased risk of developing fatty liver disease, a condition that is becoming increasingly common among Americans. The condition is “silent” at first, with no apparent symptoms. It is initially detected by a blood test that finds elevated liver enzymes, a sign of liver breakdown. But if it worsens, you can develop inflammation and scarring in the liver, impairing the liver’s ability to perform its many functions, including the metabolism of proteins and breakdown of toxins.
The same lifestyle changes that help to control diabetes help to improve liver function and stop fatty liver from progressing. And getting your liver functioning properly also improves control of blood sugar, triglycerides and cholesterol. Having a healthy liver can also do a lot to reduce fatigue and brain fog.
Here 10 ways to improve your liver function or recover from fatty liver disease. You can take all of the supplements listed below together. In fact, that’s how they work best. Once your liver enzyme tests are normal again, you may be able to cut back on dosages.
1. If you’re overweight, lose weight, but not too fast. If you’re overweight, losing weight almost always improves liver function. But don’t go to extremes. Rapid weight loss can exacerbate liver inflammation and cause gallstones. Aim to lose about 2 pounds a week.
2. Support your body’s ability to detoxify daily. The liver is the main organ for detoxification. It produces enzymes that break down toxins so that they can be removed. But it can get overwhelmed if it has too much work to do. You can take some of the strain off your liver by avoiding toxins as much as possible (eating organic food, using non-toxic skin care and household products, not smoking, etc.), and by adopting daily habits that support your body’s ability to detoxify. These habits include drinking plenty of water, getting enough soluble fiber and eating cruciferous vegetables. Read more here.
3. Avoid fructose and sucrose. Diets high in these two sugars can induce fatty liver disease, and cause liver inflammation, just like alcohol does. Soda contains lots of fructose. So do some other beverages, like fruit juice “cocktails.” Avoid foods that contain high fructose corn syrup. Limit your intake of all forms of sugar to about 200 calories a day.
3. Take milk thistle. Milk thistle has been used for thousands of years to support liver health and remains one of the most trusted and effective herbs for liver cleansing and protection. In people with fatty liver disease who take milk thistle, researchers noted a significant decline in liver enzyme markers that indicate reversal of the disease, with no serious side effect reported. Milk thistle can reduce inflammation in the liver, help prevent scar tissue formation, and increase the rate of liver cell regeneration. Dosages range from 240 mg twice a day to 200 mg three times a day.
4. Take fish oil. Research shows that fish oil can help prevent the build-up on fat in the liver, improve the action of insulin, reduce triglyceride levels, and reduce inflammation throughout the body. In one study of people with fatty liver, adding fish oil to the diet, improved liver enzyme levels and improved the texture of the liver. Take 2 to 4 grams a day.
5. Sip green tea or use an extract. Research has shown that green tea extract may keep fatty deposits from building up in the liver. It seems to work by decreasing intestinal fat absorption and altering liver fat metabolism. Drink about three cups of brewed green tea, or take about 375 mg a day of green tea extract.
6. Add vitamin E. A multi-center National Institutes of Health (NIH) study found that people with obesity-related nonalcoholic fatty liver disease who took 800 IU a day of vitamin E for about 2 years had an improvement in all aspects of the disease except for the amount of scar tissue in the liver.
7. Use curcumin. Curcumin, a component of turmeric, has liver-protecting properties similar to that of milk thistle.Several studies have shown that curcumin can help protect the liver from chemicals and drugs, and to reverse fatty liver. One study found it was helpful at both treating and preventing the fibrosis—scar tissue formation–associated with fatty liver. It helped to prevent certain cells in the liver, called stellate cells, from producing excessive amounts of collagen, which causes scar tissue formation. Take about 400 mg a day of turmeric extract.
8. Take alpha lipoic acid. This naturally-occurring antioxidant has been shown to decrease fat accumulation in both muscles and in the liver of people with insulin resistance. Alpha lipoic acid seems to work in a number of ways, including improving the use of fat for energy by liver cells. Take 600 to 1,200 m. day.
9. Take acetyl-L-carnitine. Italian researchers have found that acetyl-L-carnitine supplements can improve liver function and the microstructure of liver tissue. In one study, people with inflammed fatty liver who took one gram of acetyl-L-carnitine twice a day for 6 months had lower blood levels of liver enzymes, lower LDL cholesterol, better blood sugar control, less insulin resistance, and reduced markers for inflammation compared to people not taking acetyl-L-carnitine. (Both groups were also on 1,600 calories a day diet.) Acetyl-L-carnitine helps liver function by improving energy production in cells. That also helps to prevent a build-up of toxins in the liver.
Bottom Line: Given the chance, your liver has a remarkable ability to regenerate. Improving your liver function can help you control blood sugar and cholesterol and improve energy and mood.