Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common form of chronic liver disease in developed countries. It is associated with obesity, insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, and is characterized by elevated liver enzymes.Currently, patients with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease are encouraged to alter their lifestyles, but the focus has been on weight loss through dietary changes. But when patients were encouraged to be active for at least 150 minutes per week, they showed improvements in liver enzymes and other metabolic indices, which were not connected to weight loss.
As obesity rates continue to climb throughout the world, fatty liver disease has become a major epidemic -- yet one that often falls in the shadows compared to other more well known disease epidemics like heart disease and diabetes.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is actually the most common form of chronic liver disease in developed countries, and is also associated with metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms including diabetes, pre-diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol that increases the risk of heart disease and has also been on the rise.
As its name suggests, fatty liver disease describes the accumulation of fat in your liver. Often there are no symptoms, although it may cause fatigue or pain in your upper right abdomen.
The fat accumulations may also lead to inflammation and scarring in your liver, and in the most serious cases may progress to liver failure.
The current standard of treatment for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease centers around dietary changes to promote weight loss, but this new study shows exercise is also incredibly important, regardless of whether or not you lose weight.
In fact, just exercising for more than 150 minutes per week for three months, or increasing fitness levels, was enough for participants to show improvements in fatty liver disease.
Another study published in the European Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology in 2006 also found that three-months’ worth of nutritional guidance, plus a pair of one-hour exercise sessions each week, helped obese teens improve fatty liver disease. Before the study, more than half of the patients had fatty liver disease on the right side of their organ and almost half had it on their left side.
What Type of Exercise is Best?
The take-home message to remember is that virtually any exercise is better than no exercise at all. It’s widely known that people who don’t exercise build dangerous visceral fat -- the type that shows up in your abdomen and surrounds your vital organs including your liver, heart and muscles and is linked to heart disease, diabetes and stroke, among many other chronic diseases -- much more quickly than those who do.
So no matter what you do, make sure you get moving. The first study used walking as the main type of activity, and this is a fine choice for those of you just starting out.
Ultimately, however, you’ll want to start to vary your workout while increasing its intensity, because if you do the same exercise day-in and day-out your body will adapt to it … and when exercise becomes easy to complete, it’s a sign you need to work a little harder and give your body a new challenge.
So when you’re planning your exercise routine, make sure it incorporates the following types of exercise, as I explain in my Primary Principles of Exercise video:
Aerobic: Jogging, using an elliptical machine, and walking fast are all examples of aerobic exercise. Aerobic exercise activates your immune system, helps your heart pump blood more efficiently, and increases your stamina over time.
Interval (Anaerobic) Training: Research is showing that the BEST way to condition your heart and burn fat is NOT to jog or walk steadily for an hour. Instead, it’s to alternate short bursts of high-intensity exercise with gentle recovery periods.
This type of exercise, known as interval training or burst type training, can dramatically improve your cardiovascular fitness and fat-burning capabilities.
Strength Training: Rounding out your exercise program with a 1-set strength training routine will ensure that you're really optimizing the possible health benefits of a regular exercise program.
Core Exercises: Your body has 29 core muscles located mostly in your back, abdomen and pelvis. This group of muscles provides the foundation for movement throughout your entire body, and strengthening them can help protect and support your back, make your spine and body less prone to injury and help you gain greater balance and stability.
Exercise programs like Pilates and yoga are great for strengthening your core muscles, as are specific exercises you can learn from a personal trainer.
What Else Can You do to Treat and Prevent Fatty Liver Disease?
If you have signs of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, including elevated liver enzymes, obesity, insulin resistance or type 2 diabetes, it is important to drastically reduce or eliminate fructose (including high-fructose corn syrup) from your diet.
Fructose is much more readily metabolized to fat in your liver than glucose, and in the process can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, which in turn leads to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes.
Considering that the number one source of calories in America is high fructose corn syrup in soda, and there are about 40 grams of HFCS per can (more than the American Medical Association’s recommended daily maximum for ALL caloric sweeteners!), I would recommend cutting soda and other sugary drinks out of your diet first and foremost.
To preserve your health you also need to focus your diet on whole foods based on your nutritional type, and, if you do purchase packaged foods, become an avid label reader and avoid foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup as a main ingredient.
A healthy diet coupled with regular exercise will be your two primary weapons in fighting non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, but it’s also important to take extra steps to protect your liver as your body heals.
So to avoid putting any extra stress on your liver, avoid drinking alcohol, reduce your exposure to environmental chemicals as much as possible (including those in your food) and only take prescription or over-the-counter medications when absolutely necessary.