Liver Health and Weight Management

May 15, 2023 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Liver Health and Weight Management

Key Points

• Poor diet, sedentary lifestyle, and high fructose consumption increase fatty liver.
• Regular exercise, dietary changes, and the avoidance of alcohol are crucial for maintaining a healthy liver and waistline.

Is your waistline bulging? This could be a sign of fat accumulating in your liver. Fatty liver is a significant global health concern and if not addressed, can have severe long-term implications on your health. The choices you make regarding diet and lifestyle, are crucial in improving or exacerbating fatty liver issues. Learn more about fatty liver concerns and insights into the choices you can make to promote a healthier waistline.

Fatty Liver and Obesity

The United States has the highest obesity rate in the world with 110 million obese adults according to 2016 data from the World Health Organization (WHO). China has the second-highest obesity rate, with 97 million obese adults. Across the globe, 41 million children under the age of 5 and 340 million children and adolescents are affected by excess body weight.

These rates of excess weight and obesity are related with the increasing global issues of fatty liver and its impacts on loss of health. Fatty liver concerns now affect 1 in 4 worldwide. In the United States, an estimated 90 percent of obese individuals have a fatty liver. Obesity and gestational diabetes during pregnancy also increase the likelihood of the child having fatty liver.

Factors That Lead to Fatty Liver

Several factors increase the risk for fatty liver buildup. These include food choices, lack of certain nutrients, thyroid, vegetable oils, sedentary lifestyle, and others. Cultures that adopt the “Western” diet and sedentary lifestyle leading to obesity is a major factor for the worldwide health burden from fatty liver.

High Fructose Consumption

The greatest dietary cause of fatty liver, unrelated to alcohol consumption, is high fructose intake. The most provocative factors are high fructose corn syrup, fructose-rich foods and beverages, table sugar, and sucrose. When these sugars are combined with a high fat diet, the pro-inflammatory effects to the liver and overall metabolism are magnified.

Fructose is a simple sugar found in fruit and honey but is also a major component in the two most commonly used sweeteners – sucrose and high fructose corn syrup. Sucrose is table sugar and is made of fructose and glucose. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a mixture of fructose and glucose.

Inadequate Key Nutrients

Nutrient depleted diets with insufficient intake of choline and methionine contribute to fat buildup in the liver. Choline intake is often lacking in diets, especially if you don’t eat eggs. Methionine intake is often insufficient in plant-based or restrictive diets.

Sluggish Thyroid Function

Sluggish thyroid function also increases the development of fatty liver. The liver is a major site of thyroid hormone activation. When your liver is sluggish from fat buildup, it too can impair thyroid function. It is a two-way relationship.

Soybean Oil

Fatty liver concerns may be influenced by excessive consumption of seed oils, such as soybean oil. Recent animal studies demonstrated that a high fat/cholesterol rich diet that contained soybean oil caused cholesterol/fat to accumulate in liver cells. This diet combination with soybean oil “clogged” the metabolic fat burning activities in liver cells of mice. It also induced damage to mitochondria and activated inflammatory reactions in the liver.

Soybean oil is frequently found in processed, highly refined packaged foods. It is commonly used for cooking in kitchens and restaurants. Most soybean oil is genetically modified or GMO.

Fatty Liver and Metabolic Stress

Fatty liver build-up usually does not cause symptoms early on, but it often occurs in individuals with “metabolic syndrome”. This is related with increased waist circumference, weight gain, elevated triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol, insulin resistance and elevated fasting blood sugar levels, increased blood pressure, elevated inflammatory levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), and increased uric acid levels,

Advanced imaging studies, liver biopsies, abdominal ultrasounds, and lab tests may be used to evaluate fatty liver. However, an increased waist circumference is used to predict and measure fatty liver.

As fatty liver stress increases, it may lead to fatigue and discomfort under your right rib cage or other symptoms. Internally, liver cells swell with fat accumulation, become inflamed, and may lead to the liver becoming stiff or fibrotic. It can ultimately cause liver cells to die.

Fatty liver is considered the most significant risk factor for decline in health related to liver function, but it increases risk of illness and mortality from its effect on cardiovascular, pancreas, and brain health, and cancer risks. Fatty liver metabolic pitfalls can also affect kidneys, ovaries and estrogen, thyroid, heart, skin, acid reflux, sleep apnea, periodontal concerns, and much more. Fatty liver concerns alone are estimated to cause over $100 billion in health care expenses in the US.

Tips to Keep Your Liver Healthy

1. Avoid foods and beverages with added sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Table sugar is in so many processed foods. Be watchful! Table sugar is more addictive than cocaine due to its intense sweetness and rush of pleasure.

The CDC recommends consuming no more than 10 percent or 200 calories per day of added sugar in a 2000 calorie diet. The American Heart Association recommends that men should consume no more than 9 teaspoons (36 grams or 150 calories) of added sugar per day. For women, the recommendation is no more than 6 teaspoons (25 grams or 100 calories) of added sugar per day. Children should have less. Four grams of sugar equates to one teaspoon. One can of soda has about 32 grams of added sugar. Sugar is pure, white, and deadly.

2. Avoid refined, ultra-processed foods and beverages. Avoid foods with trans fats.

3. Reduce or avoid alcohol. Alcohol combined with obesity and fatty buildup in liver caused far worse health outcomes, more than either issue alone in a recent study.

4. Reduce or avoid intake of soybean oil. Take time to read your packaged food labels and ask questions when you eat at a restaurant, deli, or fast-food place.

5. Choose whole, unrefined foods at least 80-90 percent of the time.

6. Increase fiber intake to at least 25 – 40 grams or more per day.

7. Follow The Leptin Diet. The Five Rules allow your body fasting time between meals and are easy to follow. Time between meals is essential to burn blood sugar so it doesn’t turn into fat in the liver.

8. Exercise. Be active. Exercise and dietary changes are the most important things you can do to help your liver. Sedentary lifestyles cause deconditioning and loss of muscle mass, which further impair liver metabolism and the effects of metabolic syndrome.

Thyroid hormone activation and the birth of new mitochondria depend on exercise.

Research shows that even when obese individuals did not change their diet or lose weight, those who consistently exercised experienced reduced fatty liver and improvement in other metabolic syndrome issues.

More information may be found in these articles:

Exercise Tips to Improve Leptin and & Fat Burning

Exercise and Mitochondria: Use It and Nurture It

Exercise Endurance and Energy Linked to Gut Health

Exercise Helps Prevent the Reaccumulation of Dangerous Fat

Morning Exercise Reduces Daytime Food Cravings

More information about choline and methionine may be found in these articles:

POTS, Chronic Fatigue, and Autoimmune Disorders

Memory Neurotransmitter & Gut Health Linked

Nutritional Assessment of the Symptomatic Patient on a Plant-Based Diet: Seven Key Questions

Fatty liver poses a substantial risk to our overall health and is a growing concern worldwide. This significant issue is closely correlated with the Western diet and sedentary lifestyles. By implementing lifestyle changes today, you can unclog your liver, improve your waistline and help the health of our country!

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