Dealing With Fatty Liver

Fatty liver….. what exactly is that?  Maybe you’ve heard of it, or perhaps you’ve even heard your Doctor mention it – but you’re not clear on the details, particularly how it happens or what can be done about it.

I had the good fortune to attend a very informative Lunch and Learn Session about Fatty Liver Disease put on by the Canadian Liver Foundation.  The Speaker was Dr. Samuel Lee, who is a Professor of Medicine at the University of Calgary, a hepatologist at Foothills Hospital Calgary Alberta, and a published author.

illustration of the liver

illustration of the liver

So – let’s get to the facts!

What is a fatty liver? 

  • According to the Canadian Liver Foundation: “a fatty liver is the result of the accumulation of excess fat in liver cells”.  Fatty tissue slowly builds up in the liver over time. 
  • It could be Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD): simple fatty liver, which is benign, doesn’t necessarily lead to liver damage, and is not caused by alcohol consumption.
  • Or the simple fat could build up to a point where it can result in inflammation and damage or scarring of the liver, which is called Nonalcoholic Steatohepatitis (NASH).
  • Cirrhosis of the liver develops when there is a high amount of scarring and inflammation, and the liver is no longer able to function properly.


What causes fatty liver disease?  Some of the causes include:

  • obesity (the most common)
  • starvation and protein malnutrition
  • genetic factors
  • drugs and chemicals (alcohol, tetracycline, carbon tetrachloride, corticosteroids). 
  • Conditions that can be contributing factors and often accompany fatty liver disease are:
    • diabetes mellitus (T2 diabetes)
    • elevated lipids (fats) in the blood
    • insulin resistance
    • high blood pressure.


So how does fat get into the liver?  Basically there are 3 ways:

  1. the liver and other tissues metabolize fat that is taken in from our diet.  If our fat intake exceeds our body’s fat requirement – the excess is stored in the fatty tissues.
  2. from the transfer of fat from other parts of the body.  When we eat high glycemic foods that cause our body to produce excess insulin – excess fat is produced (insulin is a fat storing hormone).  Some of that excess fat can end up being stored in the liver.
  3. from the liver’s inability to change excess fats into a form that the body can eliminate, therefore it accumulates in the liver.

What are the risk factors?

In his lecture – Dr. Lee mentioned the following, and noted that these are also the same risk factors for other major diseases, including heart and stroke:

  1. obesity
  2. insulin resistance
  3. high triglycerides and LDL (bad) cholesterol
  4. metabolic syndrome (combination of #1+2+3 above)
  5. type 2 diabetes

Are there symptoms? 

According to Dr. Lee – most people with fatty liver do not have any symptoms.  Some might feel some dull pain in the area of the liver.

How is it diagnosed? 

Is has to be diagnosed with medical tests, ordered by your Doctor or a Liver Specialist.

Can fatty liver disease be prevented and possibly reversed? 

Yes, Dr. Lee stated that he believes it can be. How? By choosing to have a healthy dietary lifestyle (including high fiber, low glycemic foods {foods that don’t force the body to produce excess insulin}, limited saturated fats, avoiding alcohol), incorporating regular exercise into your life and keeping your body weight in the healthy normal range (avoiding overweight / obesity).

Need more information? 

Has your Doctor  recommended lifestyle changes and/or losing weight to deal with your fatty liver?  Do you need support and guidance in making healthy, manageable and sustainable, permanent changes in your lifestyle to halt (and possibly reverse) fatty liver?  If you have answered YES to any of these questions – contact me!  I can help you get on the right track to deal with fatty liver!


Informational Resources:

Canadian Liver Foundation – Fatty Liver Disease

CHealth – Non Alcohol Fatty Liver (NAFLD) Disease

The Mayo Clinic – Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver (NAFLD) Disease


Copyright © 2013 Cathy Ormon – All Rights Reserved