Understanding the Liver


Fatty liver is commonly reported on ultrasound scans performed for screening during health checks as well as during evaluation of unrelated or non-specific abdominal complaints. 

Fatty liver means exactly what it states, “excess fat deposition in the liver”. The fat may increase liver bulk and impair functioning or in severe cases swelling (inflammation) of the liver caused by free fatty acids (breakdown products of fat). Symptoms are quite non-specific and commonly include heaviness in the right upper abdomen, sometimes increasing to a sharp, short, pricking pain on exertion. Others include poor digestion, gas bloating and easy fatiguability.

Fatty liver is a common accompaniment of the “Metabolic Syndrome” , the culmination of sedentary lifestyle coupled with unhealthy eating habits with added stress (professional or personal). The metabolic syndrome comprises a complex of symptoms namely obesity, hypertension, insulin resistance (pre-diabetes) and dyslipidemia (hypercholesterolemia). The good news is that this is reversible by adopting a healthy lifestyle, eating food of the right kind (natural, unprocessed state, fresh fruits, vegetables) at the right time in the right quantity along with regular physical exercise. Just as this would result in a loss of excess weight from the body, it would also lead to a loss of fat from the liver as well. Initial results can be apparent in as little as 4-6 weeks. However, it is important to consult and follow the advice of trained professional nutritionists and not diet fads that are easily available over the net. There is no quick-fix medicine; the process requires discipline and perseverance and takes time. Mental relaxation techniques such as meditation are equally important and help in reducing stress and associated changes in the body (high circulating levels of stress hormones responsible for the “fight or flight” response). 

There are disease conditions which are associated with a high incidence of fatty liver in the absence of metabolic syndrome. Diabetes, hepatitis (inflammation of the liver caused by viruses), hypothyroidism, inherited disorders of fat metabolism are the common diseases. Alcohol consumption may further complicate the picture as it can cause a fatty liver in isolation or combined with the metabolic syndrome. Again, early detection and treatment of these diseases can result in reduction of fatty liver. Stopping consumption of alcohol also results in healing and recovery of the liver over a period of 3-4 weeks.

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