Fatty liver disease could be made worse with holiday overindulgence

07 December 2018

Winter holidays are round the corner. Indulgence in festive food and alcohol is part of the joy of this festive season, right?

Liver disease is on the rise and alcohol is the most common cause of liver disease in England. Excessive alcohol intake can cause accumulation of fat in the liver which can lead to alcohol related fatty liver disease. But don’t be caught out, an unhealthy diet with a sedentary lifestyle can lead to a condition called non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

Why should I be worried about fatty liver?

For many of us, having small amount of fat in the liver causes no major problem. It is estimated that one in five people (20%) in the UK are in the early stages of this condition. The frequency of NAFLD has doubled over the past 20 years and it is now the commonest cause of abnormal liver blood tests in the UK. A proportion of people with NAFLD can progress to advanced liver damage.

NAFLD can affect a wide range of people. Obesity is an important risk factor for fatty liver. NAFLD is typically seen in people aged around 50 and more commonly in men than women. NAFLD is often present without symptoms, but may occasionally cause non-specific symptoms of fatigue, general malaise, and abdominal discomfort. The symptoms might get worse after heavy drinking.

Many people with NAFLD suffer from Metabolic Syndrome, a constellation of factors which include a large waist circumference (men greater than 40 inches, women greater than 35 inches), high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels and insulin resistance which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Cardiovascular disease is the most common cause of death in people with NAFLD.

How to prevent fatty liver?

Fatty liver can be improved with proper diet and exercise. If you lose about 7-10% of your current weight, no matter how much overweight you are, you can reduce the fat in your liver.

Moderate intensity exercise such as weight lifting, swimming, running or aerobics, between 75 and 150 minutes a week during the holiday season and beyond will help you address this issue.

Self-help guide for holiday period:

  1. Alcohol – Alcohol has direct negative impact on the liver – especially if you have NAFLD. If alcohol consumption is unavoidable, drink in moderation (14 units per week). Consider consuming a large glass of water alongside your alcoholic drink to dilute its potency in your liver.
  2. High-fat and high-sugar foods – According to British Dietetic Association average calorie intake in Christmas day is around 6000 calories. Besides contributing to the progression of NAFLD, food with high fat and sugar content can exacerbate the inflammatory process in the liver. Eating fresh vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and lean meat or fish for your meal will help your liver. Also there is good news for coffee drinkers, moderate intake can have beneficial effect on your liver.
  3. Inactivity – We are at a time when 30% of the UK population is inactive. Moderate intensity exercise reduces liver fat content and may reduce liver disease progression. So set time aside in this festive period for regular exercise. Keeping active lowers blood pressure which reduces strain on the heart and can add years to your life.

Enjoy the festive period with healthy lifestyle choices.

If you have any concerns about liver disease or any other stomach complaint you may wish to seek advice from Dr Chakrabarty, Consultant Gastroenterologist.

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