By now you’ve probably heard that even people who look thin can actually be dangerously fat. That’s because when it comes to your health, the size of jeans you fit into is less important than your muscle to fat ratio.
And if you have too little muscle and too much fat, your health and your life are at risk. This means that simply looking in the mirror isn’t a good measurement of obesity.
But did you know that there’s another fatty problem that even people who look thin or average-sized can have?
It’s called fatty liver disease, and it’s a serious condition that could be affecting your liver function and overall health right now without you even knowing it.
That’s really scary because if you don’t know your liver’s sick, you could inadvertently do things that could cause more damage — like simply taking Tylenol for a headache or enjoying an alcoholic drink with dinner — things that in moderation, we think nothing about.
So, here’s what you need to know about this sneaky danger…
What sets you up for fatty liver disease
Because their outcomes tend to be much worse than obese patients, researchers from The Westmead Institute for Medical Research set out to discover why fat builds up in the liver of people with normal body mass indexes.
They compared the metabolism, gut bacteria and genetic profiles of patients with lean and non-lean fatty liver disease to determine which factors contribute to the disease development and progression.
And the results came down to three separate factors:
1 — Metabolism: Lean fatty liver patients have a very distinct metabolism compared to non-lean ones.
2 — Bile Acids and Fibroblast Growth Factor: Compared to non-lean patients, lean patients had higher levels of bile acids and a protein called fibroblast growth factor 19 (FGF19). Bile acids and FGF19 increase energy expenditure, which can explain why lean individuals with fatty liver disease stay lean.
3 — Gut Bacteria: Lean fatty liver patients have different levels of gut bacteria than non-lean patients. Basically, according to the researchers the reason you can be lean and still have a fatty liver is that your body has developed “obesity resistant” pathways using that factor 19 I mentioned above — which is a good thing.
What’s not so good is that none of those pathways can protect you from the liver scarring, liver cirrhosis and, in severe cases, liver failure the disease leads to.
And in the end stages of the disease, you lose those mechanisms completely, explaining why lean patients with fatty liver disease have worse outcomes than obese patients.
DIY protection from fatty liver disease
So, if you can get fatty liver disease no matter what your weight, how do you know if you’re at risk and what can be done to protect the health of your liver?
Well, first let’s take a look at risk factors, which include:
Genetics — Some people are predisposed to the disease so be aware of your family history.
Age — The risk of fatty liver goes up for men at middle-age and women during menopause.
Health problems — Certain health conditions make it more likely you will end up with a fatty liver. These include type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and high triglycerides.
And now that you know your risks, let’s get to the good stuff and talk about how to keep your liver lean.
#1 — Watch your carbs and calories
Obviously, if you are overweight, losing the extra pounds could help stave off fatty liver disease. But even if you’re thin as a rail, watching your diet is important in fatty liver prevention.
That’s because one study found that just three weeks of a high calorie diet laden with refined carbs can increase the amount of fat stored in your liver by a whopping 27 percent!
So, instead of eating the typical fast food American diet — also known as the SAD diet — try one low in refined carbs such as the Mediterranean diet.
#2 — Boost Your Fiber
Studies have shown that increasing the amount of fiber in your diet may help to reduce the amount of fat in your liver so that it can function optimally.
Good sources of dietary fiber include chia seeds, nuts, avocadoes, beans, whole grains and vegetables.
#3 — Exercise
You knew it was coming, right?
Yup, exercise is also important when it comes to warding off fatty liver disease.
In fact, studies have demonstrated that both endurance and resistance training can lower the amount of stored fat in the liver. Give it a try and, if you do it regularly, there’s no reason it shouldn’t work for you.
#4 — Drink coffee
Information at Harvard Health Publishing indicates that some studies showed patients with NAFLD who drank coffee (about two cups every day) had a decreased risk of fibrosis. So, coffee may be liver protective. However, if you’re not a coffee person, it’s not necessarily a reason to start — though lots of research does indicate coffee is healthier than once thought.
#5 — Supplement alpha lipoic acid
Alpha Lipoic Acid or ALA is a potent antioxidant that helps prevent fats from accumulating in your liver. For the best liver support and enhanced protection against fatty liver disease, take 100 mg per day.
Remember, looking in the mirror isn’t enough to tell you whether your liver and your health are in danger since even lean people get fatty liver disease. Know your risk factors and take the steps above starting today to support your health and stay liver lean.