6 Things to Know About Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

Doctor William C Lloyd Healthgrades Medical Reviewer
Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Elizabeth Hanes, RN on April 1, 2021
  • concept illustration of obese man with fatty liver, showing inset of microscopic liver damage
    Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: What It Is and How to Prevent It
    The American Liver Foundation estimates that as many as 25% of adults have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) or its more severe form, nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). These conditions reduce your liver’s ability to function correctly and, left untreated, can lead to liver scarring (cirrhosis) and liver cancer. NAFLD occurs more commonly in people with certain other health conditions, and it might be preventable through lifestyle changes. Here’s the nonalcoholic fatty liver disease information you need to know to keep your liver healthy for life.
  • illustration of hepatitis C infection in liver
    1. Hepatitis C is linked to NAFLD.
    If you have hepatitis C, your doctor will monitor your liver function carefully during treatment. Recently, researchers have established a link between hepatitis C and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. It is possible hepatitis C causes fatty liver disease, and it’s also possible that fatty liver disease makes hepatitis C treatment less effective. You may be able to improve the effectiveness of your hepatitis C treatment by eating a healthy diet and exercising regularly to avoid storing added fat in the liver.
  • woman-taking-insulin-before-meal
    You’re more at risk for NAFLD if you have type 2 diabetes.
    The exact cause of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease remains unknown, but people with certain metabolic disorders appear to be at higher risk of developing NAFLD. If you have type 2 diabetes, prediabetes, or metabolic syndrome, you’re more likely to develop nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. You can reduce your risk of NAFLD by following your diabetes treatment plan carefully, eating a heart-healthy diet, getting plenty of exercise, and maintaining a healthy body weight. These lifestyle changes can help you avoid NAFLD when you have metabolic disorders.
  • Nurse Showing Patient Test Results On Digital Tablet
    3. NAFLD can progress to NASH.
    In nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, excessive amounts of fat develop in the cells of the liver. This condition ultimately can lead to a type of liver inflammation called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH). The combination of fatty liver disease and inflammation ultimately can cause scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and even liver cancer. NASH may be reversible by losing weight, following a heart-healthy diet, and exercising regularly. Treating nonalcoholic fatty liver disease relies mainly on these lifestyle changes, as no medications have yet been approved to treat either NAFLD or NASH, specifically.
  • senior man looking at watch for time to take pills
    4. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can affect medication and supplement effectiveness.
    As your liver fills up with fat due to NAFLD, it becomes unable to perform its usual functions, including filtering the blood. During the filtering process, the liver removes toxins and breaks down (metabolizes) medications and supplements to send their useful components through the bloodstream. In NAFLD, the liver is less able to metabolize medications and supplements, which can reduce their effectiveness. If you have NAFLD, you should always review your medications and supplements with your healthcare provider to ensure you’re not overloading your liver with unnecessary processing tasks and to ensure your medications remain effective.
  • Colorful healthy vegan meal in salad bowl
    5. Nutrition therapy for NAFLD may be helpful.
    While no one treatment has yet emerged for NAFLD, research supports the idea that following a heart-healthy diet for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease may help reduce your risk of developing the disease or even reduce levels of fat within the liver. Because the same dietary factors that cause cardiovascular disease also seem to contribute to developing NAFLD, you should follow a heart-healthy nutrition plan that is high in fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, lean proteins, low-fat dairy, and healthful fats like avocado and nuts. Avoid highly processed foods, deep fried items, and other foods lacking in nutrition.
  • glasses of red and white wine on table
    6. Moderate your drinking if you have fatty liver disease.
    Excessive alcohol consumption can lead to alcoholic liver disease and cirrhosis, but even if you only drink in moderation you should rethink your consumption if you have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Your liver must devote a large number of resources to process alcohol, and NAFLD reduces the organ’s ability to do that. Instead of diverting resources to alcohol processing, consider giving up alcohol entirely to preserve your liver’s functionality when you have fatty liver disease. Not only will you reduce your risk of developing nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, but your risk of developing cirrhosis will fall too.
6 Things to Know About Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

About The Author

As “the nurse who knows content,” Elizabeth Hanes, RN, works with national and regional healthcare systems, brands, agencies and publishers to produce all types of consumer-facing content. Formerly a perioperative and cosmetic surgery nurse, Elizabeth today uses her nursing knowledge to inform her writing on a wide variety of medical, health and wellness topics.
  1. Fatty Liver Disease. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://medlineplus.gov/fattyliverdisease.html
  2. Definition & Facts of NAFLD & NASH. U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/liver-disease/nafld-nash/definition-facts
  3. Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. MedlinePlus, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health. https://medlineplus.gov/genetics/condition/non-alcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/
  4. Steatosis. U.K. Hepatitis C Trust. http://www.hepctrust.org.uk/information/impact-hepatitis-c-liver/steatosis
  5. Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. American Liver Foundation. https://liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/diseases-of-the-liver/non-alcoholic-fatty-liver-disease/#1577810249650-22c98dad-d443
  6. NASH Definition and Prevalence. American Liver Foundation. https://liverfoundation.org/for-patients/about-the-liver/diseases-of-the-liver/nonalcoholic-steatohepatitis-information-center/nash-definition-prevalence/

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Last Review Date: 2021 Mar 26
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