Fatty liver: Not just alcohol as a cause

A fatty liver is primarily associated with alcohol, but also metabolic diseases, improper diet or medication can cause fatty degeneration of the liver. Since symptoms usually only appear when liver function is already limited, fatty liver often goes unnoticed for a long time. In doing so, early action is important: a fatty liver can become inflamed and lead to liver cirrhosis. This also increases the risk of liver cancer. On the other hand, if the changes in the liver are detected in good time, a change in lifestyle is usually enough to cure a fatty liver.

Causes and origin

A fatty liver (steatosis hepatis) is when more than half of all liver cells have stored fat (triglycerides). Depending on the cause, there are two forms:

In the case of alcoholic fatty liver, the increasing detoxification of alcohol in the liver produces certain substances that inhibit the breakdown of fatty acids and promote the production of fat. With permanently increased alcohol consumption, there is thus an increasing storage of fat in the liver cells.

The non-alcoholic fatty liver can be caused by several causes:

  • Wrong diet with too much fat and sugar leads to obesity and promotes the formation of new and accumulated fat in the liver cells.
  • Lipid metabolism disorders may be genetic or occur as a result of other disorders. Increased blood lipid levels lead to an increased intake of fatty acids in the liver.
  • In diabetes mellitus sugar can not be broken down due to lack of effect or lack of production of the hormone insulin and is increasingly converted to fat and stored in the liver.
  • Autoimmune diseases, viral infections and medications such as certain antibiotics, chemotherapeutic agents and cortisone can damage the liver, disrupting fat loss.
  • In case of extreme malnutrition certain transport proteins can no longer be produced, as a result of which the fat can no longer be removed and accumulates in the liver.
  • In pregnancy, the hormone change can lead to an increase in fatty acids in the blood and to a breakdown in fatty acid metabolism in the liver.

Fatty liver: symptoms

Obesity of the liver is a slow process and initially causes no discomfort. At an advanced stage, nonspecific symptoms such as tiredness, loss of appetite, reduced performance and feeling of fullness, nausea and pressure in the right upper abdomen may occur.

Diagnosis of fatty liver

Usually, a fatty liver is only accidentally discovered as part of a check-up because of the lack of symptoms. Enlargement of the organ associated with fatty liver can be detected by palpation of the abdomen or by ultrasound examination. In addition, the liver values ​​are determined in the context of a blood test: A damage to the liver is shown by an increase in the enzymes GOT, GPT, gGT and AP in the blood.

The reason for the change in the blood values ​​is the death of liver cells, which enzymes are released into the blood, which occur mainly in the cells of the liver. However, since these values ​​do not say anything about the cause of the liver damage, the doctor also takes a tissue sample to ensure the diagnosis: under the microscope, the fat drops in the liver cells can usually be detected without any doubt.

Possible consequences of fatty liver

In about one third of cases, a fatty liver can become inflamed and become so-called steatohepatitis. The increased tissue death due to inflammation leads to "scarring". In this case, destroyed liver cells are replaced by connective tissue (fibrosis), which can ultimately lead to cirrhosis (shrinking liver).

In this end stage of liver damage, the changes in the organ are already irreversible: the tissue and vascular structure is increasingly destroyed, liver function diminishes, and in the worst case, liver failure can occur. In addition, the remodeling processes in this process increase the risk of developing liver cancer.

Therapy of fatty liver: lifestyle change

If a fatty liver is the result of another disease, such as diabetes, in most cases obesity of the liver can be reversed by treating the underlying disease alone. On the other hand, if liver deficiency is caused by alcohol or an improper diet, the only treatment option is a lifestyle change because there are no drugs to treat fatty liver.

However, with a change in diet and a healthy lifestyle, the liver can recover in most cases. In detail, this means:

  • Consist strictly on alcohol!
  • In the diet, you should prefer whole grains and vegetable oils.
  • Restrict the consumption of fat and sugar.
  • Reduce existing overweight slowly: Too fast weight loss burdens the liver by the sudden increase of released fatty acids in the blood.
  • Exercise regularly and incorporate exercise into your everyday life.
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