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Fatty liver is a condition caused by extra storage of fats in the liver. It is a common disease and most of the time it is not that serious. However, in some cases, it can cause liver damage. However, it can be prevented or even reverse fatty liver disease with a healthy lifestyle. But do you know how long does it take to reverse fatty liver?
The following article will guide you through all that one needs to know about how long it takes to reverse fatty liver1. Be it the causes or the remedies that one can follow; we’ve got you covered.
1. What is Fatty Liver Disease?
Hepatic steatosis which is nicknamed “fatty liver disease” makes it sound less intimidating to the patient. Technically speaking, fatty liver disease is a severe condition that occurs when there is a mass accumulation of fat within the liver.
It might seem not-so-deadly at first, but this fat buildup can interfere with the normal functioning of the liver.
Eventually, one problem leads to the other and you end up with various health complications. The good thing is that fatty liver is considered a reversible condition if addressed in its early stages, but if left untreated, it can progress to more serious liver diseases that might even risk lives.
2. Types of Fatty Liver Diseases
As of 2017, there are around 882.1 million fatty liver disease patients worldwide. Something as widespread as this has been a source of active research and discussion.
Among the many variants of the disease; we’ll be discussing two of the most prevalent types; namely- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD2) and alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD).
2.1 Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
NAFLD is the most common form of fatty liver disease to be found in patients worldwide. As the name suggests, it is not related to excessive alcohol consumption. So what other factors are responsible then?
Well, to name the significant factors, you can say hypertension, high cholesterol levels, obesity, and diabetes. That’s not the end, genetic factors, poor dietary habits, and sedentary lifestyles also contribute to the same.
2.2 Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD)
A much more obvious and far more chronic ailment is the AFLD. Mainly caused by excessive and prolonged alcohol consumption, AFLD often ends up in fatal aftereffects.
You might be aware that, the liver is responsible for metabolizing alcohol, and if alcohol consumption is more than the liver’s capacity to metabolize, it results in what we call Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease.
This alcohol accumulation in the liver (hepatocytes) is often reversible if alcohol consumption is reduced or eliminated.
3. Is Fatty Liver a Concern?
Before knowing the curing time, it would be better if we knew the reason behind it all. Why are we so fixated on keeping our livers healthy? What is there to even care about a little fat being stored in it? Among the number of reasons that we could list, here are some of the prime ones.
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is estimated to affect almost 25% of the global population. Now, that is quite a big lot. Among the most vulnerable groups, we have individuals with obesity, type 2 diabetic patients, and especially patients suffering from metabolic syndrome.
3.2. Gateway to Liver Disease:
In most cases, the stems are deadlier than the root of the disease. Fatty liver disease itself is bad news but it also descends to more severe conditions like nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), fibrosis, cirrhosis, and eventually liver failure. These advanced stages can lead to a need for a liver transplant which is heavy on the body and of course on the pocket.
3.3. Healthcare Burden:
Imagine the constraints you’ll have to abide by if you were told that your liver is no more working. The progression of fatty liver disease to more advanced stages places a substantial burden on the healthcare systems due to the need for medical interventions, hospitalizations, and potential liver transplants.
3.4. Increases Risk Of Liver Cancer:
The list of the ill effects of fatty liver disease is unending. Individuals with advanced fatty liver disease, particularly cirrhosis, face an elevated risk of developing liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma). Chronic inflammation and the presence of scar tissue create the perfect environment for the development of cancerous cells and end up in liver failure.
4. What is the Reason Behind the Disease?
4.1. Poor Diet
A very famous saying that goes like “You become what you eat”; is quite apt in this case. The root cause for all this inconvenience is our dietary habits.
Consuming foods containing refined carbs, saturated or trans fat, and added sugars leads to the development of fatty liver. Moreover, excessive consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages, processed food, and fried foods can increase liver fat deposition manifold times.
4.2. Sedentary Behavior
Any amount of emphasis on this topic is not enough. It is known to all but is equally overlooked. A sedentary lifestyle, with no exercise or physical activity highly contributes to the accumulation of fat in the liver.
But need not worry. Regular exercise is there for our rescue. Exercising helps improve insulin sensitivity, promotes fat metabolism, and reduces inflammation – all of which are important for maintaining liver health.
Obesity itself is far less problematic than the disease that its precursors. Obesity 3is one of the major contributing factors to fatty liver disease.
Excess body weight, particularly abdominal fat, contributes to insulin resistance. And what does that do? It increases fatty liver disease vulnerability by 47%. Yes, that’s a huge number.
4.4. Rapid Weight Loss
In this era where everyone is running behind the hourglass figure, we have become prey to crash diets and extreme calorie restrictions. Losing weight might seem healthy at first look but can lead to a release of stored fats into the bloodstream.
If the liver cannot process these fats efficiently, we again end up with the same fatty liver conditions.
4.5. Excessive Alcohol Consumption
As you might have guessed already, alcohol consumption will be on this list. Heavy and prolonged alcohol intake is a primary cause of alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD).
When there is an excessive intake of alcohol, the liver cannot process it, hence leading to fat accumulation and inflammation.
4.6. Genetic Factors
Lifestyle undoubtedly plays a pivotal role in the progression of fatty liver disease. Not everything is under our control. Genetic factors can also influence an individual’s susceptibility to fatty liver disease.
Some people may be more prone to developing fatty liver due to their genetic makeup.
5. How Long Does it Take to Reverse Fatty Liver Disease?
The potential for a complete reverse of fatty liver disease depends on several factors that have been discussed below. Although the condition can be reversed, the progress varies from person to person, as the success rate highly depends on individual factors.
Though we can not give a one-size-fits-all answer, we’ve tried to put together the overview along with the key factors that influence the process.
5.1. Early Stage Reversal
As it has been found in various medical research, the early stages of the fatty liver may start to get better within a few months to a year. In such cases, fat accumulation is mild and inflammation is limited.
Thus, individuals who commit to significant lifestyle changes may start seeing improvements. Now, since the disease is quite young, it can be treated by incorporating little changes such as a healthy diet, lesser alcohol intake, and regular exercise.
5.2. Moderate Stage Reversal
For individuals with moderate fatty liver disease, it takes a minimum of 8 months to a year or more to observe significant improvements. Inflammation is more pronounced in these cases and the damage is much more than the earlier one.
The least we can do on our own is to lead a sustained lifestyle and gradual weight loss.
5.3. Advanced Stage Reversal
For more advanced cases where the fatty liver has progressed to an alerting condition, we have to be extra careful with the reversal. Why so? Because the body has now got habituated to the sugar levels and any abrupt changes would mess with the body’s metabolism.
In such cases, we often have to deal with fibrosis 4or liver cirrhosis wherein the reversal process becomes more and more complex. While lifestyle changes can help; the complete reversal of the severe form may take longer and some degree of liver scarring might remain.
6. What Factors Influence the Reversal Time?
6.1. Commitment to Lifestyle Changes
The extent to which an individual embraces and maintains healthier lifestyle habits is a significant factor. It looks easy in talks but going from pancakes to salads is a tedious task.
Consistency in adopting a diet rich in healthy fats, regular physical activity, and other positive changes can accelerate the reverse fatty liver disease process.
6.2. The Severity of the Condition
As it is evident, the more advanced the fatty liver disease, the longer it takes to reverse. If the patient shows mild symptoms, the recovery is relatively quicker than those with advanced stages.
6.3. Overall Health Status
Underlying health conditions such as diabetes pedigree, and prior liver disease history can impact the pace of reversal. Some individuals may have faster metabolisms or respond more quickly to lifestyle changes than others.
6.4. Patient Age
The patient’s age is a pivotal factor to be kept in mind. It not only affects the recovery period but also the vulnerability to the disease occurring. Younger people may experience faster metabolic changes, potentially leading to quicker improvements.
7. How to Reverse Fatty Liver Disease?
Reversal of both the types of fatty liver disease be it the nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) or the alcoholic fatty liver disease (AFLD); is somewhat the same. You just have to abide by some of the basic rules and will surely see improvement.
7.1. Improving Insulin Sensitivity
Insulin is a critical factor in fatty liver development. How, you may ask? When the body becomes resistant to the effects of insulin, it struggles to regulate blood sugar levels and store excess glucose as glycogen.
This stored glycogen leads to increased fat synthesis and storage in the liver. Adopting a healthier lifestyle can improve insulin sensitivity, thus, allowing the body to more effectively manage blood sugar overall and we have reduced fat accumulation in the liver.
7.2. Balanced Diet
There is no doubt as to how big of a difference a balanced dietary habit can make. A diet that is low in added sugars, refined carbohydrates, and unhealthy fats helps reduce the influx of dietary fats into the liver. A balanced diet is a must for everyone irrespective of their liver conditions!
7.3. Promoting Liver Regeneration
The best part, if there is one, about reverse fatty liver disease is the magical power of the liver cells5 to regenerate. A healthier lifestyle supports this regenerative capacity6, allowing liver cells to repair and renew themselves more effectively.
So all you need to do is eat well, quit drinking, and exercise more; the rest will be taken care of by the liver itself.
8. The Real-Life Story of John Bendon
John Bendon, a 45-year-old IT professional was just as ordinary as anyone can be. He had the same story as most of us. Overweight and glued to his desk job. Until one day when he was diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver during a routine check-up.
Upon learning about his condition, John decided to take charge of his health. For starters, he adopted a balanced diet. Whole vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein became his go-to.
9. In The End
With a mix of pilates7 and regular cycling, John lost 30 pounds over a year. This resulted in an improved cholesterol level and eventually his liver function tests showed significant improvement.
The most important takeaway from this article would be – That a small amount of sheer commitment to a healthier lifestyle will not only reverse the fatty liver but also enhance overall well-being.
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- Riazi, Kiarash, et al. “The prevalence and incidence of NAFLD worldwide: a systematic review and meta-analysis.” The lancet gastroenterology & hepatology (2022). ↩︎
- Blüher, Matthias. “Metabolically healthy obesity.” Endocrine reviews 41.3 (2020): bnaa004. ↩︎
- Kisseleva, Tatiana, and David Brenner. “Molecular and cellular mechanisms of liver fibrosis and its regression.” Nature Reviews Gastroenterology & Hepatology 18.3 (2021): 151-166. ↩︎
- Nguyen, Giang N., et al. “A long-term study of AAV gene therapy in dogs with hemophilia A identifies clonal expansions of transduced liver cells.” Nature biotechnology 39.1 (2021): 47-55. ↩︎
- Wang, Wei, et al. “Changes in regeneration-responsive enhancers shape regenerative capacities in vertebrates.” Science 369.6508 (2020): eaaz3090. ↩︎
- Casonatto, Juliano, and Cárita Mayume Yamacita. “Pilates exercise and postural balance in older adults: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials.” Complementary therapies in medicine 48 (2020): 102232. ↩︎