Fast facts on fat livers

Did you know that the liver is the largest internal organ of the human body? One of the major functions of the liver is to remove toxic and waste materials from the body.

As blood flows through the liver, waste materials are filtered through the liver and removed. Other than purifying the blood, the liver also synthesises bile juice for the digestion of fat.

The liver also acts as storage for energy, vitamins and minerals, and produces important blood clotting factors as well as regulates blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

It is therefore very important for us to ensure that the liver is healthy and performing at an optimum level.

There is a common condition which can adversely affect the liver silently, and this condirtion is known as fatty liver. It is estimated that 17% of Malaysian's are affected by this condition.

What is fatty liver?

A healthy liver usually consists of 2% to 5% fat. If fat in the liver accumulates to over 5% of liver weight, this is known as fatty liver. When fat exceeds 10% of liver weight, the fat cells can damage liver cells.

A fatty liver can develop in three stages:

1. Simple fatty liver - The liver progressively accumulates fat, and this is early liver damage. This condition is known as non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Most people have no symptoms at this stage and the liver is not enlarged.

2. Inflammation of liver cells (Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis) - Excessive fat causes inflammation and eventually damages liver cells. Dead liver cells will form scar tissue.

3. Hardening of the liver (cirrhosis) - Excessive scarring causes hardening of the liver, and liver fails to perform properly.

The risks factors for developing fatty liver include the following:

High blood sugar levels - Consistently having high blood sugar (in diabetes) levels affects liver function. Statistics show that 88% of type 2 diabetics develop fatty liver.

Being overweight or obese - A person is overweight when his body mass index (BMI) is between 23 and 27.4, and it has been found that about 37.4% of NAFLD patients are overweight. As high as 80% of obese patients have NAFLD.

High cholesterol levels - About 63% of NAFLD patients also have high cholesterol.

Alcohol drinkers - Statistics indicate that 90% to 100% of heavy alcohol drinkers develop fatty liver disease.

Keeping your liver healthy

Keeping your liver healthy

The potential health problems that can be caused by fatty liver should not be take lightly. Fortunately, there are many ways to keep your liver healthy. Here are some tips:

Increase consumption of low glycaemic index foods - This will help to avoid rapid increases in blood sugar. Examples include fruit, whole meal bread, oats and soba noodles.

Low fat diet - Fat should not exceed 20% of our total daily calorie intake. A high fat diet can increase cholesterol levels and increase the risk of developing a fatty liver.

High fibre diet - Increase intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, oats and grains. This can help to reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels.

Regular exercise - Maintain moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes at least three times a week. This is the most effective way to maintain healthy body weight.

Weight loss - In overweight and obese individuals, reducing weight will help to reduce the overall risk of developing a fatty liver.

Nutritional supplements - Supplements which contain polyunsaturated fatty acids, which are also known as essential phospholipids (EPL), are vital nutrients which can support the liver. The liver cell is protected by a cell membrane and EPL is a major component of cell membranes. Therefore, when liver cells are inflamed, EPL is lost, causing the loss of cell structure, function and eventually death. Replenishing EPL has been shown to have protective and regenerative effects on liver cells.

As the liver is such an important organ, take charge of your liver today. Liver cells are the only internal organ that can regenerate, as long as there are enough healthy cells; it's never too late to protect your liver.

This article is courtesy of sanofi-aventis. The information provided is for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader's own medical care.