The Liver Disease You Can Get Even If You Don’t Drink Alcohol

Liver diseases are often associated with alcohol use disorders, because heavy drinking over time can result in liver damage and failure. But some people develop a certain type of liver disease even when they drink small to moderate amounts of alcohol — or none at all.

This is what that condition looks like, how it’s typically treated, and a few ways you can prevent it from happening to you.

Who gets nonalcoholic fatty liver disease?

Red and white wine

Red and white wine | TSchon/iStock/Getty Images

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease occurs when too much fat builds up in the liver. This is often the result of a combination of health conditions such as obesity and diabetes.

In its most severe form, the disease can cause scarring and irreversible damage similar to the kind seen after prolonged alcohol misuse.

Some with the condition eventually develop liver cancer and even liver failure.

Anyone can develop the condition regardless of gender, age, and other factors. But you’re most likely to get it if you already have one or more of the following health conditions.

  • Metabolic syndrome
  • High triglycerides and/or cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes
  • Excessive abdominal body fat or obesity
  • Middle to older age
  • Polycystic ovary┬ásyndrome
  • Thyroid disorders.

The good news is, just because you’re diagnosed with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease doesn’t mean you’re totally out of luck. There are ways to treat it, both minor and more medically invasive. It all depends on the type and severity of your specific case.

How is it treated?

Many cases of the disease can be treated with weight loss. Because obesity and its related conditions are such common risk factors, the first thing professionals do is help patients establish a supervised weight loss plan to relieve their symptoms and, hopefully, salvage their long-term health.

Generally, it starts with a goal of losing 10% of a person’s body weight. Depending on the circumstances, this could require a strict diet and exercise regimen, behavioral counseling, weight loss surgery, or all of the above.

Those with severe scarring and resulting damage might qualify for a liver transplant. But you might be able to avoid all of this entirely by taking action now rather than later.

How to prevent it

Exercise

Exercise | MAEK123/iStock/Getty Images

The best ways to prevent nonalcoholic fatty liver disease are the same methods health experts recommend for weight loss and treating the condition if you already have it.

Switching to and maintaining a healthy diet can prevent problems related to cholesterol, blood sugar, and weight gain. This typically means an increase in the amount of produce, whole grains, and lean protein foods, and a reduction in the number of processed foods you consume.

Exercise is another way to achieve and remain at a healthy weight for your age and lifestyle. Just 30 minutes a day five days a week can make a huge difference when paired with a diet high in fiber and protein. Choose activities you enjoy — even walking around your living room is better than nothing.

Small, gradual changes might not seem like they’re paying off right now. But it’s much better — and much more cost-effective — to take charge of your health while you’re still mostly healthy. Do what you can to beat the disease before it beats you.

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