The liver, an organ crucial for cleaning toxins from the body, is susceptible to damage from chronic injury. Fatty liver is becoming more and more common. The diagnosis is made via imaging such as an ultrasound. Often times patients may have no symptoms or experience mild abdominal pain. Chronic alcohol use is a well-known cause of liver damage, but many patients experience increased fat stores in the liver for other reasons. This is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and the prevalence is growing. If left untreated fatty liver can progress to cause liver damage and scarring, similar to the damage seen in alcoholics.
One of the reasons for the increase in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the western diet. High blood sugar and high processed fats in the diet can increase a person’s risk of storing fat in their liver. A well-balanced diet that is rich in vegetables, fiber, healthy fats and lean protein will help to regulate blood sugar and protect the liver. Maintaining a healthy weight and regular exercise are also ways to reduce your risk.
Alongside lifestyle modifications there are naturopathic therapies that help to treat the liver. Naturopathic herbs such as milk thistle, curcumin, berberine and resveratrol have been shown in studies to improve fatty liver disease. Intravenous glutathione is a more potent naturopathic therapy that delivers high levels of glutathione into the blood. Glutathione helps to detoxify the liver but also acts as an antioxidant to protect liver cells from damage.
Naturopathic medicine takes a holistic approach to health, so ensuring that other systems in the body are functioning optimally is also important when discussing liver health. A recent study highlighted the importance of proper gut flora for liver health. The 2019 study linked the increased presence of the bacteria Klebsiella pneumonia with ethanol production when patients ate carbohydrate rich meals. This ethanol production was associated with fatty liver damage even in patients that didn’t have a high alcohol intake. In the study group 60% of patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease carried this bacterial strain. In extreme rare cases this can even lead to a persons blood ethanol increasing and is termed auto-brewery syndrome. As naturopathic doctors we use stool tests to help identify your levels of good and bad bacteria in your gut and can treat you accordingly. This new research demonstrates that a healthy gut also has a role in having a healthy liver.