Fatty Liver Supplements: A Guide to What Works
In its early stages (which can last for a decade or more), liver disease is symptom free. As a result, between 75 and 100 million people are living with a ticking time bomb known as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and don’t even know it.
Symptoms Of Fatty Liver Disease
Generally, fatty liver disease has no symptoms, but as the condition progresses, individuals may experience one or more of the following:
- Weight gain
- Loss of appetite, unintended weight loss
- Pain in the upper-right abdomen
- Confusion or disorientation
- Patches of dark skin on neck or underarms
The Long-Term Effects
Long overshadowed by its more famous cousins—liver diseases, such as hepatitis and cirrhosis — fatty liver is reaching epidemic proportions in this country, affecting one in three Americans, even children. Although symptoms may be subtle or even nonexistent for years, one very obvious sign of liver malfunction is weight-loss resistance. That’s why whenever patients complain about failing to lose weight, I check their blood panels for signs of fatty liver. Note, however, that as the disease progresses, it may cause unexpected weight loss or loss of appetite. Sometimes an ultrasound or even a liver biopsy is necessary to make a diagnosis.
Unfortunately, , fatty liver disease is often overlooked. There is some controversy amongst physicians about how significant this issue is. But the fact is, fatty liver is not normal and it has the potential to progress to cirrhosis and other serious liver conditions.
While fatty liver itself is not life threatening, it can escalate into far more serious conditions, including nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, and ultimately liver failure. While the liver does have the remarkable ability to regenerate and heal damage, that only works up to a point. A steady onslaught of poor diet, alcohol and/or drugs, exposure to everyday toxins, plus other health complications scar the liver, leading to permanent malfunctions. Eventually, the only remedy is a liver transplant, a costly, complicated procedure with no guarantee of success.
If that weren’t bad enough, there’s a strong correlation between NAFLD and increased insulin resistance—one of the telltale signs of impending diabetes. With a diminished response to insulin comes an increase in fatty acids building up in the liver…which, in turn, leads to free radical damage, and a pro-inflammatory environment that damages the liver even further.
A dynamic duo of terrible health conditions that only get harder to treat the longer they go unaddressed.
Supplements that Support Liver Health
Here are a few nutritional supplements that can help support a healthy liver.
In clinical trials involving silymarin, the active ingredient in milk thistle, researchers found the herb rejuvenates and repairs damage to the liver. When using milk thistle you can take 200 mg up to 3 times per day.
The active ingredient in the spice turmeric, curcumin has a long list of benefits, including heart health and fewer signs of aging. A recent study has found that curcumin protects liver cells from the type of damage commonly found in fatty liver and related conditions. I suggest 500 mg daily. If you are taking blood-thinning medications (including Coumadin or warfarin), please consult your physician before adding curcumin to your daily regimen.
A powerhouse antioxidant, vitamin E prevents damage to cell membranes, among other things. Look for a product containing natural vitamin E, which you can identify by its chemical name, d-alpha-tocopherol. The form dl-alpha-tocopherol is synthetic and not nearly as effective. The big difference is d (natural) vs. dl (which is synthetic). 400 IU daily has benefit but higher doses are generally not advised.
Our intestinal tract is home to billions of good bacteria that are absolute necessities for a healthy immune system, proper digestion, and much more. Now research is showing that probiotics can prevent fat from accumulating in the liver. Look for a product containing at least 10 billion colony forming units (CFUs), and take one dose daily with a meal.
According to the World Journal of Gastroenterology, the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil can decrease damaging inflammation, improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the amount of fat in the liver. A trifecta of benefits for those with NAFLD and type 2 diabetes. Try 2,000 to 3,000 mg, combined, of EPA and DHA taken in two or three 1,000 mg doses during the day.
Be sure to read your ingredients panels. 2,000 mg of fish oil is not the same as 2,000 mg of EPA and DHA.
Digestive enzymes can help ensure that you’re properly digesting your foods and getting the maximum nutrition from it. Different types of enzymes target specific types of foods. For example:
- Proteolytic enzymes help digest protein.
- Amylases target carbohydrates.
- Lipases help with fats.
Combination products include all three types (and more), so these are a good place to begin. Follow the instructions on the product you choose, or seek advice from a nutritionally knowledgeable health-care professional.
Betaine hydrochloride (HCI)
Supplements of HCI combine with enzymes to further ease the liver’s burden and reduce inflammation. I suggest taking one 500 mg dose before or with each meal. If this helps you feel better continue. If you feel worse with the addition of acid, you may have adequate acid production already.
Dangers of Fatty Liver Disease
Why is this happening? After seeing so many patients in my clinic with the condition, I asked myself the same question. As it turns out, fatty liver is often linked to other common health issues, particularly diabetes, prediabetes, high cholesterol and/or triglycerides, and obesity. Just having fatty liver makes an individual more likely to be diagnosed with type 2 diabetes and triples the risk of having a stroke.
Popping pills (prescription, nonprescription, or illegal) and drinking too much alcohol play roles, too. Here’s why: The liver, one of the hardest-working organs in the body, has two primary jobs. One is to detoxify the blood by converting substances like alcohol and medications to a usable form, then removing those chemicals from the body. The liver’s second job is to turn food nutrients into compounds the body can use, storing excesses for future use. Clearly, the liver is a miraculous organ that we simply cannot live without.
As the name suggests, fatty liver disease occurs when the liver is overrun by fat cells. These cells clog up the system and interfere with liver functions. Because the condition is so common, pharmaceutical companies have been working on remedies for profit, so far without success. In the meantime, plenty of things can be done to turn the situation around. First, I suggest speaking with your doctor about healthy ways to work on weight loss, exercise, healthy digestion and detoxification. Make sure you’ve been tested for diabetes or prediabetes since these conditions can have a harmful impact on your liver health.
Organic Foods Can Help
In my practice, I’ve found that patients with fatty liver disease who temporarily follow a predominantly organic raw-foods diet have the best results. Eating more raw organic fruits and vegetables accomplishes several things. First, it’s good for losing weight, one of the most important remedies for fatty liver. Second, by taking in fewer toxins with organic produce, your liver has fewer poisonous substances to process. Third, raw organic food supplies vital nutrients and fiber, something you aren’t going to get with processed, prepared meals. There are a number of excellent books and websites devoted to raw-food diets, and I urge you to look into them.
Foods to Avoid
With proper care and by avoiding the wrong foods, fatty liver disease can be prevented from turning into something more serious. Here’s an example: Researchers have found that diets high in processed fats and fructose not only contribute to weight gain but also to NASH, the fatty liver-related condition mentioned earlier. Saturated fats and fructose are commonly found in fast foods, as well as prepared, packaged meals.
Foods that Support Liver Health
- Pink Grapefruit
Fatty liver disease may be silent in terms of symptoms, but that doesn’t mean it should be ignored. This is a serious condition with a distinct tendency to grow worse, opening the door to diabetes, stroke, and even more dangerous liver diseases. If you or someone you know has fatty liver, I recommend doing everything possible to get the condition under control. It will make a tremendous difference in your health and well-being for years to come.
Last Updated: April 25, 2020
Originally Published: April 26, 2012