Fatty liver disease could be made worse with holiday overindulgence


Winter holidays are round the corner. Indulgence in festive food and alcohol is part of the joy of this festive season, right?

Dr Gayatri Chakrabarty, Consultant Gastroenterologist shares insight around fatty liver disease and how it could be made worse with overindulgence with some tips around healthy lifestyle choices to keep in mind whilst enjoying the festive period.

Liver disease is on the rise and alcohol is the most common cause of liver disease in the UK accounting for 6 in 10 cases (1). Excessive alcohol intake can cause accumulation of fat in the liver which can lead to alcohol related fatty liver disease. But, unhealthy diet with sedentary lifestyle can lead to fatty liver called metabolic dysfunction associated steatotic liver disease (MASLD) formerly known as non-alcohol related fatty liver disease (NAFLD) (2).

 

Why should I be worried about fatty liver?

For many of us, having small amount of fat in the liver causes no major problem. It is estimated that one in five people (20%) in the UK are in the early stages of this condition (3). The frequency of NAFLD has doubled over the past 20 years and it is now the commonest cause of abnormal liver blood tests in the UK. A small proportion of people with NAFLD can progress to advanced liver damage.

Fatty liver can affect a wide range of people. Obesity is an important risk factor for fatty liver. NAFLD is typically seen in people aged around 50 and more commonly in men (3). NAFLD is often asymptomatic, but may occasionally cause non-specific symptoms of fatigue, general malaise, and abdominal discomfort. The symptoms might get worse after heavy drinking.

People with fatty liver have metabolic risk factors, which include a large waist circumference (men greater than 40 inches, women greater than 35 inches), high blood pressure, high triglyceride levels and insulin resistance which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes (3).

 

How to prevent fatty liver

Moderate intensity exercise such as weight lifting, swimming, running or aerobics, between 150-200 minutes a week in 3 to 5 sessions during the holiday season and beyond will help you address this issue (4).

 

Self-help guide for holiday period

  • Alcohol – Alcohol has direct negative impact on the liver – especially if you have fatty liver. If alcohol consumption is unavoidable, drink in moderation (14 unit per week) (5). Consider consuming a large glass of water alongside your alcoholic drink to dilute its potency in your liver.
  • High-fat and high-sugar foods – According to British Dietetic association average calorie intake in Christmas day is around 6000 calories. Besides contributing to the progression of fatty liver, food with high fat and sugar content can exacerbate the inflammatory process in the liver. Eating fresh vegetables, complex carbohydrates, and lean meat or fish for your meal will help your liver. Also there is good news for coffee drinkers, moderate intake can have beneficial effect on your liver (6).
  • Inactivity – We are at a time when, over 30% of the UK population is inactive. Around 1 in 2 (42%) of women and 1 in 3 (34%) of men are not active enough for good health (7). Moderate intensity exercise reduces liver fat content and may reduce liver disease progression. So set time aside in this festive period for regular exercise. Keeping active lowers blood pressure which reduces strain on the heart adding to your years.

Enjoy the festive period with healthy lifestyle choices.

 

References

1. https://britishlivertrust.org.uk/information-and-support/liver-conditions/alcohol-related-liver-disease/
2. https://www.aasld.org/new-masld-nomenclature
3. https://britishlivertrust.org.uk/information-and-support/liver-conditions/non-alcohol-related-fatty-liver-disease.
4. https://cks.nice.org.uk/topics/non-alcoholic-fatty-liver-disease-nafld/management/management/
5. https://www.nhs.uk/better-health/drink-less/
6. Kositamongkol C, et al. Coffee Consumption and Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease: An Umbrella Review and a Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. Front Pharmacol. 2021 Dec 13;12:786596. doi: 10.3389/fphar.2021.786596. PMID: 34966282; PMCID: PMC8710778. 7. https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/physical-activity-applying-all-our-health/physical-activity-applying-all-our-health