The liver typically contains some fat. However, if it builds up, it can cause fatty liver disease. This means that the liver is not able to function normally.
Fatty liver disease can occur when there is more than 5% fat in the liver.
Early symptoms can include:
- loss of appetite
- feeling sick or vomiting
- weight loss
What Causes Fatty Liver?
There are several factors that may cause or contribute to developing fatty liver:
Obesity: Obesity involves low-grade inflammation that may promote liver fat storage. It’s estimated that 30–90% of obese adults have NAFLD, and it’s increasing in children due to the childhood obesity epidemic
Excess belly fat: Normal-weight people may develop fatty liver if they are “viscerally obese,” meaning they carry too much fat around the waist.
Insulin resistance: Insulin resistance and high insulin levels have been shown to increase liver fat storage in people with type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome
High intake of refined carbs: Frequent intake of refined carbs promotes liver fat storage, especially when high amounts are consumed by overweight or insulin-resistant individuals
Sugary beverage consumption: Sugar-sweetened beverages like soda and energy drinks are high in fructose, which has been shown to drive liver fat accumulation in children and adults
Impaired gut health: Recent research suggests that having an imbalance in gut bacteria, problems with gut barrier function (“leaky gut”), or other gut health issues may contribute to NAFLD development.
Symptoms of Fatty Liver
There are several signs and symptoms of fatty liver, although not all of these may be present.
In fact, you may not even realize you have fatty liver.
- Fatigue and weakness
- Slight pain or fullness in the right or center abdominal area
- Elevated levels of liver enzymes, including AST and ALT
- Elevated insulin levels
- Elevated triglyceride levels
If fatty liver progresses to NASH, the following symptoms may develop:
- Loss of appetite
- Nausea and vomiting
- Moderate to severe abdominal pain
- Yellowing of eyes and skin
It’s important to see your doctor regularly for standard exams and blood tests that can diagnose fatty liver at the early, reversible stage.