Fatty Liver Disease is an increasingly common problem, estimated to affect up to 30% of the population at some point in their lives. Also called Non Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease or NAFLD (or initially steatohepatitis which means the same thing) this condition is considered to be a very significant liver disease. It can lead to liver failure or liver cancer, both of which can be fatal. If you drink alcohol or are exposed to elevated levels of chemicals (this can be everything from pesticides, parts cleaner, spray paint and solvents, to hair spray and nail polish then this information applies particularly to you as these chemicals are toxic to the liver!
NAFLD or fatty liver does not initially have any distinct symptoms; poor energy levels may be the single most noticeable symptom and is often attributed to either age or fitness level. This makes it a sneaky problem that can kill you!
Fatty liver is caused by several problems including liver inflammation, overactivity of natural killer immune T-cells (NK cells), sedentary lifestyle, high fat diet or high carbohydrate diet, weight gain or lack of exercise and alteration of the normal gut bacteria. These factors are in turn inter-related; sedentary lifestyles cause weight gain for example. High fat diets or diets with high levels of sugar alter the gut bacteria. Overall it could be said that this condition is a result of modern diet and lifestyle as its incidence is directly proportional to these factors.
Diets that are high in sweets or fats, weight gain, stress and antibiotics cause major shifts in the types of bacteria composing the gut bacterial colony and result in immune dysfunction. Many aspects of immunity are affected, but those that are significant to NAFLD include:
-loss of control of NK T-cells, resulting in liver inflammation
-increased permeability of intestinal lining membranes, resulting in bacterial translocation (ie they end up in the bloodstream), resulting in liver inflammation
-altered digestive processes, resulting in elevated fat levels in blood and deposition in the liver
-altered sense of smell and appetite, resulting in reduced satiety (ie harder to feel “full” after eating), resulting in overeating and weight gain
-lowered metabolism and altered hormonal levels, resulting in weight gain
-weight gain results in more systemic inflammation
-systemic inflammation results in liver inflammation
Regular aerobic exercise combined with a low carbohydrate diet has a beneficial effect on the gut bacteria, restoring populations to a more beneficial profile. Aerobic exercise will help to heal the liver from NAFLD! This improvement is thought to be in part because of the way that aerobic exercise improves the gut bacteria. Other factors that improve gut bacteria include using probiotics-a good combination with exercise. The use of probiotics to restore normal gut bacteria has also been shown to:
-protect the liver against NAFLD
-reduce liver inflammation
-aid in maintaining normal energy levels
-restores normal natural killer T-cell control
-restores normal immune function
-helps the liver to heal from NAFLD
This discussion adds to the body of evidence that shows gut bacteria to not only be a useful addition but in fact a necessary functional organ. Our bodies and our symbionts evolved together and neither can thrive without the other. So, remember to exercise, limit your carbohydrates and take your probiotics!