How to reverse fatty liver disease

It’s the silent disease affecting up to one third of Australians, but fatty liver disease doesn’t have to be a life sentence.

Fatty liver disease is an umbrella term to describe a range of conditions caused by the accumulation of fat stored in the liver, according to the Gastroenterological Society of Australia.

We ask the experts how to prevent fatty liver disease – and what to do if you do get a diagnosis.

What is fatty liver disease?

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) includes various categories of liver injury, says hepatologist Dr Luis Bertot, who works closely with the Liver Foundation.

This ranges from steatosis (fat in the liver) to steatohepatitis (fat and inflammation) and fibrosis (steatosis, inflammation plus scarring), which can progress to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer, he says.

The condition is also linked to obesity, high cholesterol levels, Type 2 diabetes and alcohol consumption.

What are the symptoms of fatty liver disease?

Typically there are few symptoms, but a routine blood test will pick up any liver problems.

If there are precursors, an ultrasound of the liver will assess the extent of fat deposits.

How is fatty liver disease treated?

“Currently there is no approved pharmacological therapy for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and weight loss through lifestyle changes remains the cornerstone for treatment,” says Dr Bertot.

“Aim for a weight loss of at least 3 per cent of body weight within six-12 months, ideally 10 per cent to reverse severe forms of fatty liver.”

Dr Bertot also recommends at least 150 minutes of exercise a week, ideally 30-60 minutes daily at a moderate intensity or 20-60 minutes, three days per week at a vigorous intensity.

fatty liver disease

Is fatty liver disease really reversible?

While much debate surrounds its reversibility, clinical sports physician Dr Peter Brukner believes a diagnosis can be entirely reversed with a low-carb, high-fat diet.

Dr Brukner recently released a book, A Fat Lot of Good, outlining how he reversed his own non-alcoholic fatty liver disease diagnosis.

“Fatty liver is associated with a number of health issues including insulin resistance, diabetes and cardiovascular disease,” says the physician.

“Within 13 weeks [of a low-carb, high-fat diet] I had lost 13kg, my blood test results had gone down, my NAFLD had been completely reversed and I was no longer prediabetic.”

Top tips to manage fatty liver disease

  • Lose weight. This is particularly applicable if a liver ultrasound/biopsy determines fat deposits on the liver and your BMI falls within the overweight category. Aim for a waistline of 80cm for women or 95cm for men.
  • Adopt a balanced, nutritious diet. Focus on wholefoods and avoid processed foods high in carbs/sugar, which can spike blood sugar levels.
  • Reduce or even eliminate alcohol consumption. This stands even if your diagnosis is non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
  • Aim to exercise five times a week. Incorporate resistance and aerobic workouts.

Written by Charlotte Brundrett.