Wellness Overview: Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease


Each year, cases of liver disease developing without the instance alcohol abuse are increasing throughout the United States, the U.K, and Australia. Decades ago, fatty liver disease and cirrhosis were diagnosed due to excessive alcohol consumption. Currently, however, more and more adults and even children are diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is a medical condition that is characterized by an excessive accumulation of fats within liver cells. More precisely, NAFLD causes normal, healthy liver tissue to become partially replaced with fatty tissue. Although it’s common for the liver to have some fat, an accumulated amount of more than 5 to 10 percent of the individual’s liver weight can create complications. Excess fat can begin to invade the liver, eventually covering healthy regions of the liver and decreasing the amount of healthy liver tissue.

According to statistics, approximately 70 million Americans may have fatty liver disease and not even know it.

The Function of the Liver

The liver is one of the most active and highly functioning organs in the body, working hard and tirelessly to maintain the body’s overall health and wellness. The liver is in charge of regulating chemical levels and toxins in the blood as well as excreting bile. Bile is necessary to break down fats stored in the body. All of the blood which leaves the stomach and intestines must be filtered through the liver. The liver’s primary function is to detoxify the blood. Other essential functions of the liver include:

  • Detoxifies chemicals and metabolizes (breaks down) drugs.
  • Manufactures proteins important for the regulation of blood clotting
  • Breaks down excess hormones circulating in bloodstream
  • Produces cholesterol (necessary for vitamin D and hormone production and for healthy nerves)
  • Stores and releases glucose, as needed
  • Stores iron
  • Converts harmful ammonia to urea (urea is an end product of protein metabolism that gets excreted in the urine)
  • Clears the blood of alcohol, medications, drugs and other harmful chemicals
  • Produces immune factors and removes bacteria from the bloodstream
  • Clears and removes bilirubin (excessive buildup causes jaundice -yellowing of skin and eyes)

The liver is also responsible of processing and storing important nutrients, such as vitamins, minerals and iron, in order for these to be more effectively absorbed by the body.

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, has become a prevalent condition in the United States and western Europe as weight gain, obesity, insulin resistance, diabetes and metabolic syndrome have dramatically increased over the population. It is now the most common cause of liver disorders in the United States as well as in other western countries, such as Australia and the U.K. Approximately 1 in 5 people, amounting up to 25 percent of the population in these regions have NAFLD.

While some research studies have demonstrated that non-alcoholic fatty liver disease most commonly develops due to excess weight and obesity, metabolic syndrome and diabetes, studies have also shown that the excessive use of prescribed medications and pain killers can lead to fatty liver disease as well.

Symptoms of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease

NAFLD is referred to as a silent disease. People with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease may initially experience no symptoms from the disorder, where they will often live with the condition for many years, even decades without a diagnosis. Eventually, however, several signs and symptoms may begin to manifest. These symptoms include:

  • feeling tired
  • fatigue
  • weight loss
  • loss of appetite
  • weakness
  • nausea
  • confusion
  • trouble concentrating
  • pain in the center or right upper part of belly
  • enlarged liver
  • bloating and gas
  • dark urine
  • bruising easily
  • sweating, excessively
  • constipation
  • dry and dark patches on neck and under arms

If non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is left untreated for an extended period of time, it could eventually lead to the development of cirrhosis. Cirrhosis results when scar tissue develops in the liver, preventing the liver from functioning properly. This scar tissue can then block the normal flow of blood that passes through the liver and can also slow down the processing and absorption of nutrients, hormones, drugs and naturally produced toxins as well as the production of proteins and other substances produced by the liver. The symptoms of cirrhosis are usually severe and they include the buildup of fluid in the body, particularly in the abdominal cavity called ascites, muscle weakness, internal bleeding, yellowing of the skin and eyes, and liver failure.

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease Diagnosis

Utilizing an abdominal ultrasound or a biopsy is the best way to diagnose fatty liver disease. Individuals with NAFLD often don’t have elevated levels of liver enzymes, which is why blood tests generally appear normal. Elevated levels of liver enzymes do however indicate that there may be some inflammation in the liver due to non-alcoholic fatty liver disase or another more serious condition known as NASH.

Causes and Risk Factors of Fatty Liver Disease

There are numerous risk factors which may increase your chances of having NAFLD, including:

  • Obesity
  • Gastric bypass surgery
  • High cholesterol
  • High levels of triglycerides in the blood
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Medications
  • Sleep apnea
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
  • Underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)
  • Hemachromatosis (excess iron accumulation)

A research study published in the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology in 2006 stated that NAFLD is commonly diagnosed in 84 to 96 percent of patients who are undergoing bariatric surgery. The study also recognized that the disease is most common in men but can increase with menopause in women.

Foods Which Can Lead to Fatty Liver Disease

High-Carbohydrate & Refined Foods

When we consume an excess of refined carbohydrates and other types of foods, insulin levels can spike significantly. Foods such as white bread and other carbs should be reduced or eliminated from your diet, even whole grains should be consumed in moderation as these can convert into sugar. Rice and corn should also be avoided. Insulin sensitivity is a major factor in the development of liver disease.

Sugary Beverages

Sports drinks, such as gatorade or powerade, soda, energy drinks and fruit juices, contain refined sugars and artificial sweeteners. When these substances are consumed in excess, they could eventually lead to fatty liver disease. The average 12-ounce can of soda, for instance, has about 10 teaspoons of sugar. The human body is not designed to be able to break down the elevated amounts of sugar the average American consumes on a daily basis and this can greatly impact the health of the liver. The average person consumes 20 tsp of sugar per day, equaling to about 66 pound of sugar per year.

The American Heart Association, or AHA, recommends that no more than 6 tsp of sugar per day for women and 9 tsp per day for men should be consumed. A child’s sugar intake should not exceed 3 tsp per day.

According to a research study conducted at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta, refined sugars, particularly fructose, are suspected to be a common contributor to the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Fructose has been demonstrated to cause extensive damage to liver cells. There have also been substantial connections between increased fructose consumption and obesity, dyslipidemia and insulin resistance.

Processed Foods

Refined sugars, hydrogenated oils, convenience foods and lunch meats can be toxic to your body in the long run. Nitrates and nitrites, for instance, are commonly found in processed foods and they have been closely associated to the development of serious conditions, including cancer. The high fructose corn syrup found in processed foods is the single biggest cause of fatty liver disease. It’s essential that you eliminate these products from your diet to heal liver disease.

Foods Which Can Improve Fatty Liver Disease

A research study published in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry revealed that natural enzymes found in fruits and vegetables as well as in plant extracts and herbs, can be utilized traditionally to treat various liver diseases. It’s essential to add these foods into your everyday diet. Fruits and vegetables can be easily added into your diet through juicing.

When the proper function of the liver is impaired due to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and/or due to other liver conditions, juicing fruits and vegetables has the additional benefit of making these easier to digest for better absorption. Vegetables ideal for a liver detox include, kale, cabbage, lettuce, cauliflower, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, asparagus, beets and celery.


Beets can naturally cleanse and purify the blood, boosting the function of the liver and increasing nutrient production in the body. Beets are also rich in antioxidants, folate, iron, fiber and betaine, a natural digestive enzyme. Beets are great additions to juicing recipes and can also be added into smoothies. You can also daily shred some beets and toss them into your salads.


Broccoli and other members of the cruciferous family, such as brussel sprouts, cauliflower, arugula, cabbage, collard greens, kale and bok choy, are rich in fiber and glucosinolates, which help the liver naturally cleanse the body of carcinogens and other toxins.

Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes, carrots, butternut squash and pumpkin are rich in beta-carotene, a natural anti-inflammatory. When an individual has a potassium deficiency, it can disrupt the proper function of the liver.  Sweet potatoes, which are naturally high in potassium, can be tremendously beneficial because they help support healthy liver function. One sweet potato contains nearly 700 milligrams of potassium. Sweet potatoes are also rich in vitamins B6, C, D, magnesium and iron. These are also easy to eat because they’re naturally sweet and their sugars are slowly released into the bloodstream through the liver, preventing blood sugar spikes.


Lemons are great for your liver. They provide a variety of antioxidants and can help the liver produce more enzymes to give you more energy and help with digestion. Lemons are also naturally rich in electrolytes. Although lemons are acidic, once they enter the body they become alkaline, which helps neutralize toxins and excrete wastes. Juice 1 fresh lemon, daily and drink it undiluted on an empty stomach every morning to enjoy its wonderful benefits.


With about 470 milligrams of potassium, bananas can also be great for cleansing the liver as well as for overcoming low levels of potassium in the body. In addition, bananas can help with digestion, helping to release toxins and heavy metals from the body, decreasing the liver’s work load.

Garlic, Whole Cloves

Garlic is high in allicin and selenium, two fundamental nutrients for the liver. These function by cleansing and nourishing the entire body, especially the blood. Selenium is a naturally detoxifying mineral and allicin helps counter immune system invaders, also assisting to decrease the load on the liver. Garlic also activates enzymes in the liver which aid digestion and flush out toxins. Use whole garlic cloves instead of processed minced garlic or powder.

Ginger Root

Ginger has powerful anti-inflamatory properties and it’s also an excellent antioxidant. For people diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, consuming ginger can be fundamental. Ginger root can also drastically lower blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance and elevated glucose levels are major factors in the development of NAFLD. You can make ginger tea by boiling slices of ginger in green tea or water. You can also add ginger to a stir-fry, salad or smoothie.

Leafy Greens

Consuming leafy greens are a huge part of a balanced nutrition as these can be beneficial for just about any type of health issue. Spinach, kale, chard, romaine, arugula, and collards are all some of the most nutrient dense leafy greens to enjoy. These are rich in chlorophyll, which assists in liver function by purifying the blood, alleviating toxins, decreasing inflammation and promoting the healing of wounds. Chlorophyll is also amazing at neutralizing heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and even pesticides that can burden liver function.

Supplements Which Can Improve Fatty Liver Disease

Dandelion Root

Dandelion root contains vitamins and nutrients which are important to help cleanse the liver in order to allow it to keep functioning properly. Dandelions have also been known to aid the digestive system by maintaining the proper flow of bile. Dandelion root is a natural diuretic and it allows the liver to eliminate toxins effectively. Dandelion stems which can be brewed in a tea are also rich in vitamin C, which can help with mineral absorption, reduces inflammation and prevents the overall development of many diseases.

Milk Thistle

Milk thistle is a powerful detoxifier, aiding and supporting proper liver function. This supplement helps rebuild liver cells and removes toxins from the body which have been processed through the liver. According to a research study published in Digestive Diseases and Sciences, milk thistle has the power to improve mortality rates in patients with liver failure as it is capable of naturally reversing the harmful effects of excessive alcohol consumption and that of pesticides in our food, heavy metals in water supply, pollution in the air we breathe in and even poisons. A 2010 study showed that milk thistle benefits treatments of alcoholic liver disease, acute and chronic viral hepatitis as well as toxin-induced liver diseases.

Vitamin D

Recent research studies have shown that vitamin D deficiencies can often lead to NAFLD, or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Vitamin D deficiency has also been demonstrated to cause severe cases of NAFLD, including serious liver inflammation and liver fibrosis, or hardening of the liver. The research study also revealed that vitamin D deficiencies can lead to insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome. All of these factors can additionally play a considerable role in the development of peripheral neuropathy. Optimal vitamin D levels should be between 70-100 ng/ml for overall health and wellness.


Curcumin is the active component of turmeric and it’s considered to be the most powerful herb on the planet, effectively helping to treat and reverse disease naturally. Currently, there are over 6,000 published articles emphasizing on the amazing health benefits of curcumin. Other research studies have also demonstrated that curcumin could prevent the progression of liver disease, helping to reduce the inflammation of the liver and the body alike.

Black Seed Oil

Black seed oil can help speed up the healing process of people with fatty liver disease. A research study published in the European Review for Medical and Pharmaceutical Sciences measured black seed oil’s ability to restrict liver oxidative stress markers. The results of the research study indicated that black seed oil can benefit liver disease patients because it’s capable of decreasing issues associated with the gradual progression of liver disease.

Maintaining a healthy and balanced nutrition is the best course of action to treat fatty liver disease. Many people with liver disease are overweight and malnourished. A healthy diet can provide the body with essential vitamins and nutrients needed for the body to function. Weight loss along with a balanced diet can be an effective treatment for fatty liver disease as well. Exercising regularly for a minimum of 30 minutes a day and eating a healthy plant-based diet can ultimately help your overall well-being.

Can Fatty Liver Disease Cause Peripheral Neuropathy?

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD, is considered to be the most common liver disorder in the western region . It’s recognized as one of the most common forms of chronic liver disease across the world.

A research study published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 2003 reported a connection between non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and peripheral neuropathy. The research revealed that 73 percent of people with NAFLD could develop peripheral nerve damage leading to the symptoms of peripheral neuropathy.

As if the development of peripheral neuropathy wasn’t bad enough, scientific evidence demonstrated that the longer you have NAFLD, the more likely it is to progress into liver fibrosis, or the accumulation of abnormal fibrous tissue, cirrhosis, or the accumulation of scar tissue in the liver, and NASH, or severe liver inflammation and cell damage.

Although, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is most likely to occur in people who are overweight with metabolic syndrome or type 2 diabetes, recently there are more and more cases of children with NAFLD. This is a direct result of the standard American diet. Pediatric NAFLD has been reported in children as young as 3 years old.

If you have been diagnosed with NAFLD or are overweight, suffer from metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance or diabetes, it’s important to take action. The good news is, the liver is the only organ capable of fully regenerating itself. As long as at least 15 percent of your liver is working and functioning properly, your body can repair and regenerate your liver.

For more information, please feel free to ask Dr. Jimenez or contact us at 915-850-0900 .

By Dr. Alex Jimenez

Additional Topics: Neck Pain and Auto Injury

Neck pain is characterized as the most prevalent symptom after being involved in an automobile accident. During an auto collision, the body is exposed to a sheer amount of force due to the high speed impact, causing the head and neck to jolt abruptly back-and-forth as the rest of the body remains in place. This often results in the damage or injury of the cervical spine and its surrounding tissues, leading to neck pain and other common symptoms associated with whiplash-related disorders.

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The information herein on "Wellness Overview: Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease" is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional or licensed physician and is not medical advice. We encourage you to make healthcare decisions based on your research and partnership with a qualified healthcare professional.

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Dr. Alex Jimenez DC, MSACP, RN*, CCST, IFMCP*, CIFM*, ATN*


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