The most common disease in America is something you have probably never heard of, but it affects 90-million Americans and is a major risk factor for diabetes, heart attacks, and even cancer. It is called NALFD (nonalcoholic fatty liver disease) or fatty liver, for short, and is caused by the 152 pounds of sugar and 146 pounds of flour each of us consumes annually.
How do you know if you have it? What’s causing it? And how do you fix it? Do you exercise, take drugs, change your diet, or take supplements to fix it?
Many of you are probably wondering, “What is a fatty liver?” Have you heard of foie gras? Foie gras is the (controversial) French delicacy made from duck or goose liver. The fat that develops in the livers of these animals as a result of intentional of overfeeding could be accumulating in your own liver, unknowingly. For those people who have this disease, essentially what they have is a liver packed with fat, and that is a major cause of chronic disease and inflammation in the body.
How is it that we live in a country where fatty liver is the single most common disease, but most people have never even heard of it? More than 70 million Americans have a fatty liver and almost none of them know they have it. In fact, you might have it, as well, and not even know it.
What causes it?
In order to make foie gras, ducks or geese are force-fed sugar in the form of corn and starch—a sad practice. In the body, this sugar turns on a fat-production factory in the liver, a process known as lipogenesis, which is the body’s normal response to sugar. Fructose actually ramps up the lipogenesis response even more. The high-fructose corn syrup found in processed foods is the single biggest cause of fatty liver. Soda, because it is the number-one source of calories in the American diet, is the biggest cause of fatty liver.
How do you know if you have it?
Blood tests are available that can detect a fatty liver. You can also see it on an ultrasound. And if your test comes back abnormal, you are in trouble. But even if your test comes back normal, you might not be out of the woods. Be aware that a liver-function test doesn’t always detect a fatty liver. An ultrasound can be more sensitive.
The bottom line is, if you eat a lot of sugar and flour, if you have a little bit of belly fat, or if you crave carbs, starch, and sugar, you probably have this.
Why is this a problem?
Fatty liver creates a whole cascade of issues. It causes inflammation in your body. This inflammation creates insulin resistance and pre-diabetes, which causes your body to deposit fat not just in your liver but also all around your organs and in your belly.
That dangerous belly fat caused by the sugar and starch in your diet then creates even more problems. It causes you to have high triglycerides and low HDL, the good cholesterol. It causes you to have small LDL, the dangerous cholesterol particles that cause heart attacks.
In fact, having a fatty liver puts you at great risk for having a heart attack, and most people have no idea they have it. Certain populations like Latin Americans have a much higher risk of having a fatty liver.
And shockingly, now, we see 12-year-old boys who have lived on soda for years needing liver transplants from fatty liver. That’s pretty scary, and we really need to think about what we are doing to our children by feeding them these toxic substances.
When you have a fatty liver, you need to think about the damage it’s causing. You don’t want to end up with a liver transplant. You don’t want to end up needing to be on medications to fix the complications of a fatty liver like, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, and abnormal cholesterol. You want to get to the root of the problem. There are some really simple things you can do with diet, exercise, and supplements to help heal your fatty liver.
Mark Hyman MD