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Learn how to reverse fatty liver damage and unfatty your liver.

How To Unfatty A Fatty Liver

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How To Unfatty A Fatty Liver

In Greek mythology, Prometheus suffered the punishment of being chained to a rock, where he would have his liver eaten by an eagle, whereupon each day his liver would grow back, only to be eaten again the next day.

We mere humans who are not Greek gods might not be able to endure quite such punishment to our liver, but it is an incredibly resilient and self-regenerative organ.

In fact, provided at least 51% of the liver is still present and correct, the other 49% will regrow. Similarly, damage done (such as by trying to store too much fat there due to metabolic problems, as in alcoholic or non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) will reverse itself in time, given the chance.

The difference between us and Prometheus

In the myth, Prometheus had his liver regrow overnight every night. Ours don’t recover quite so quickly.

Indeed, the science has good and bad news for us:

❝Liver recolonization models have demonstrated that hepatocytes have an unlimited regenerative capacity. However, in normal liver, cell turnover is very slow.❞

~ Michalopoulos and Bhusan (2020)

Read more: Liver regeneration: biological and pathological mechanisms and implications

If it regenerates, why do people need transplants, and/or die of liver disease?

There are some diseases of the liver that inhibit its regenerative abilities, or (as in the case of cancer) abuse them to our detriment. However, in the case of fatty liver disease, the reason is usually simple:

If the lifestyle factors that caused the liver to become fatty are still there, then its regenerative abilities won’t be able to keep up with the damage that is still being done.

Can we speed it up at all?

Yes! The first and most important thing is to minimize how much ongoing harm you are still doing to it, though.

  • If you drink alcohol, stop. According to the WHO, the only amount of alcohol that is safe for you is zero.
  • Consider your medications, and find out which place a strain on the liver. Many medications are not optional; you’re taking them for an important reason, so don’t quit things without checking with your doctor. Medications that strain the liver include, but are by no means limited to:
    • Many painkillers, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), paracetamol, and ibuprofen
    • Some immunosuppresent drugs, including azathioprine
    • Some epilepsy drugs, including phenytoin
    • Some antibiotics, including amoxicillin
    • Statins in general

Note: we are not pharmacists, nor doctors, let alone your doctors.

Check with yours about what is important for you to take, and what alternatives might be safe for you to consider.

Dietary considerations

While there are still things we don’t know about the cause(s) of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, there is a very strong association with a diet that is:

  • high in salt
  • high in refined carbohydrates
    • e.g. white flour and white flour products such as white bread and white pasta; also the other main refined carbohydrate: sugar
  • high in red meat
  • high in non-fermented dairy
  • high in fried foods.

So, consider minimizing those, and instead getting plenty of fiber, and plenty of lean protein (not from red meat, but poultry and fish are fine iff not fried; beans and legumes are top-tier, though).

Also, hydrate. Most people are dehydrated most of the time, and that’s bad for all parts of the body, and the liver is no exception. It can’t regenerate if it’s running on empty!

Read more: Foods To Include (And Avoid) In A Healthy Liver Diet

How long will it take to heal?

In the case of alcoholic fatty liver disease, it should start healing a few days after stopping drinking. Then, how long it takes to fully recover depends on the extent of the damage; it could be weeks or months. In extreme cases, years, but that is rare. Usually if the damage is that severe, a transplant is needed.

In the case of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, again it depends on the extent of the damage, but it is usually a quicker recovery than the alcoholic kind—especially if eating a Mediterranean diet.

Read more: How Long Does It Take For Your Liver To Repair Itself?

Take good care of yourself!

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