Dealing with fatty liver disease

After reading a recent column about spirulina, MH of Dothan, Alabama writes, “Will spirulina have an adverse effect on fatty liver disease? And do you have any further information or suggestions on how to deal with fatty liver?”

Dear MH, I’ll answer your second question first because I have a lot of nutritional information about fatty liver. According to a 2019 review article on the subject in the International Journal of Biological Sciences, a person’s diet is one of the main factors leading to the development of fatty liver disease.

The proper name for the condition is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, or NAFLD. That means it’s not caused by alcohol, but it affects the liver in the same way.

One of the main factors that triggers the disease process is what experts call “overeating.” In NAFLD, an unbalanced intake of fat, sugar, and starch causes fat to build up in the liver. This eventually causes the liver to become inflamed and scarred. If left untreated, the final stage is permanent liver damage called cirrhosis, similar to chronic alcoholism.

What is the treatment? Since overeating and obesity are the main contributors to the disease, weight loss is key. One way to start is by reducing extra fat in your diet, particularly the saturated fat. Excess fat turns into body fat very easily.

And reduce the added sugar. For example, a 20-ounce bottle of soda contains 16 teaspoons of added sugar and 240 non-nutritional calories.

However, some foods can help reverse some of the symptoms of NAFLD. These include those that are high in fiber (found on a food label with nutritional information for your reading pleasure). Find fiber in foods that started life in the soil: vegetables, fruits, nuts, whole grains, beans, and other legumes.

When you eat fat, focus on the monounsaturated type known as MUFAs. They are found in foods such as olive, canola and sunflower oil, as well as soy, nuts and avocados. Studies have shown that a diet high in this type of fat can help reduce fat accumulation in the liver. Just don’t eat the whole bowl of guacamole at once.

Other fats, called polyunsaturated fats, or PUFAs, may also help treat NAFLD, researchers say. The most popular of these fats are the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, flaxseed, and walnuts.

Regarding your first question, a systematic review of randomized controlled trials (of the best kind) published in Complementary Therapies in Medicine in 2019 found that spirulina is not only safe, but may be an effective alternative treatment for fatty liver disease. Still, check with your doctor or pharmacist to make sure there are no known drug interactions with any medications you may be taking.

Barbara Intermill is a Registered Dietitian and Columnist. She is the author of Quinn-Essential Nutrition: The Uncomplicated Science of Eating. Email her at [email protected] This column was provided by the Tribune News Service.