In simple terms, fatty liver disease means an accumulation of fat in the cells of the liver. The liver is the largest organ in the human body. It performs the essential function of digesting food, storing energy, regulating blood sugar and cholesterol levels, filtering toxins from the body, and fighting disease and infection (1).
It’s normal to have fat in the liver, but when there is more than 5 to 10 percent fat, it can be considered as fatty liver disease.
Fat accumulates in the liver as a result of habitually consuming fat-rich food that exceed the amount of fat the body can process. A build-up of fat in the liver makes it susceptible to further damage, which can cause inflammation and scarring.
There are two types of fatty liver disease: alcohol-induced and non-alcoholic. The main factor behind alcohol-induced fatty liver is excessive alcohol consumption. A few of your liver cells die every time your liver filters alcohol.
The liver is a hardy organ that is capable of regenerating itself. But protracted alcohol abuse diminishes this regenerative power of the liver, resulting in severe, and permanent damage to the liver (2).
In non-alcoholic fatty liver, fat builds up in the liver for reasons unrelated to alcohol. Some of these factors are excess weight; pharmaceutical drugs; being diabetic, middle aged or older; high blood pressure, metabolic disorders; rapid weight loss; high fat levels in blood; excess toxins; certain infections like hepatitis C; or genetic disorders.
In general, people with fatty liver disease have no symptoms, especially in the beginning. However, some people may experience abdominal discomfort, fatigue, loss of appetite, a general feeling of being unwell and vague discomfort.
Some other symptoms reported are yellowing of eyes and skin, swelling in ankles and stomach, feeling drowsy or confused, vomiting blood or bloody stools. This is why proper diagnosis is important before starting any treatment.
Currently, there is no effective treatment for fatty liver disease. However, it is a reversible condition and can usually be treated with simple lifestyle changes, dietary changes and easy-to-follow home remedies.
For people with alcoholic fatty liver disease, abstaining from alcohol for even two weeks helps the liver make a profound improvement in restoring its condition.
Here are the top 10 home remedies for fatty liver disease.
1. Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple cider vinegar (ACV) is one of the best remedies for fatty liver disease. It helps get rid of fat accumulated in and around the liver and promotes weight loss.
A study in 2014 investigated the potential ability of apple cider vinegar to lower fats like cholesterol, triglycerides in mice that were fed a high cholesterol diet.
It concluded that apple cider vinegar protected the blood cells, kidney, and liver from injury due to oxidation, and also lowered the lipid levels in the blood. It also enhanced the levels of antioxidant enzymes (3).
Moreover, it encourages healthy liver functioning and reduces liver inflammation.
- Add 1 tablespoon of raw, unfiltered apple cider vinegar to a glass of warm water.
- Optionally, add a little raw honey.
- Drink it 2 times daily, before your meals.
- Follow this remedy for a few months.
Caution: Apple cider vinegar is acidic, so dilute it before use as instructed above. Initially start with a small volume (1 teaspoon) of apple cider vinegar, and then increase it to 2 tablespoons gradually if your body is comfortable with it. Do not take it in excess.
A study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in 2005 revealed that apple cider vinegar can cause burning of the esophagus in some people who drink it undiluted (4).
It may interact with other prescription medications. Vinegar can also damage tooth enamel; hence it is good to rinse your mouth after drinking.
Lemons are essential not only in the kitchen but also for many medicinal purposes.
Lemons contain high amounts of vitamin C, an antioxidant that helps the liver produce enzymes including one called glutathione. Glutathione amongst other tasks neutralizes toxins and thus lemons help detoxification in the liver.
Both limes and lemons are rich in flavonoids. Some of the major flavonoids in lemons are eriocitrin, narirutin, hesperitin, naringenin, etc. (5).
As evidenced through research, many of these citrus flavonoids are responsible for the beneficial health effects of lemons. The flavonoids within lemon oil stimulate the secretion of digestive juices like bile and thus aid digestion.
Eriocitrin, the major flavonoid of lemon, was demonstrated to have a lipid lowering effect on total cholesterol, triglycerides, and phospholipids in rats fed with a high-fat, high-cholesterol diet (6).
Another study published in 2014 concluded that eriocitrin, a powerful antioxidant, repairs fatty liver disease caused by a high-fat diet in rats by stimulating the cells to produce new mitochondria (7).
Also, a 2014 study published in the journal Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology found that naringenin helps ease liver inflammation (8).
Lemon is also alkalizing for the body as it helps flush harmful acids.
- Squeeze the juice of ½ lemon in a glass of water. Drink it 2 or 3 times a day for several weeks, especially first thing in the morning.
- Alternatively, add 2 to 3 chopped lemons to a jar of water. Cover and let it sit for a few hours. Drink this water at regular intervals throughout the day.
The herb dandelion works as a powerful liver tonic, hence it can be used to treat fatty liver disease. In addition, dandelion is known for its anti-rheumatic, anti-diabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties effects.
It helps detoxify and metabolize fat accumulated in the liver and promotes proper liver function. Lab experiments revealed that dandelion flower extracts were able to inhibit the oxidation of lipids (9).
Also, a 2013 study published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology found that dandelion leaf extract helps in the prevention and treatment of obesity-related non-alcoholic fatty liver disease in experimental animal models (10).
- Add 1 teaspoon of dried dandelion root to a cup of hot water. Cover and steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain, add a little honey if needed for taste. Drink 3 cups of this herbal tea daily for a few weeks. Dandelion can also be added to other teas like green tea. You can also add fresh tender dandelion leaves to salads, or eat cooked dandelion leaves as a side dish. You can also add other liver-boosting herbs like burdock and artichoke.
- In addition, you can take dandelion as capsules/tincture daily. Check with your doctor for appropriate dosage and frequency.
Note: Do not use this herb if you are allergic to it or plants like sunflower, chamomile, etc. that belong to the Compositae family. Use with caution if you are diabetic because it has blood sugar lowering effects.
If you are pregnant or breastfeeding, do not use in quantities larger than that normally used in food and avoid tinctures as they contain alcohol in high quantities.
4. Green Tea
Green tea is a popular beverage with many therapeutic properties associated with it. It has a high content of flavonoids which are responsible for its antioxidant properties.
Among the flavonoids present in green tea, catechin is a major component that has been in the research limelight because of its anti-tumor and antisclerotic effects. The other main tea catechins are epicatechin, epicatechin gallate, epigallocatechin (EGC), and EGC gallate (EGCG) that have been found to reduce oxidative stress and exhibit anti-viral, anti-allergenic, anti-diabetic effects (11).
In addition, catechins were reported to affect lipid metabolism by diminishing the triglyceride and total cholesterol levels in experimental animal models and increase the use of energy. Studies on green tea extracts and catechins reveal that they have a protective effect against non-alcoholic fatty liver disease by decreasing the oxidative stress, inflammatory response, and maintaining the energy balance (12), (13).
According to a 2013 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Medicine, green tea with high-density catechins improves liver function and fat infiltration in patients suffering from non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) (14).
Another randomized clinical trial study done in 2016 reported that green tea extracts improved the serum levels of liver enzymes in NAFLD patients (15).
Green tea helps block the amount of fat stored in the liver and improves liver function. Plus, regular intake of green tea reduces body weight and fat percentage.
- Drink 3 to 4 cups of organic green tea, hot or cold, every day to assist with fatty liver disease and protect the liver.
- Blend green tea (you can also use matcha green tea powder) into smoothies & juices.
- Green tea is also available in the form of extract in liquid and in capsules. Consult your doctor before taking supplements.
Always chose organic herbs and teas to help avoid pesticides and other toxins.
Turmeric is a spice that has innumerable health benefits. It has more significance than just as a curry powder constituent. Packed with valuable antioxidants, turmeric is another effective home remedy for fatty liver disease.
Curcumin is the major phytochemical present within turmeric that gives it medicinal value. A large body of experimental evidence indicates that curcumin possesses the power to alter the immune system along with antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
These properties enable it to alleviate conditions like cancer, cardiovascular disease, gastrointestinal inflammatory diseases, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, etc. (16).
In a randomized trial conducted in 2016, a short-term supplementation with curcumin reduced the symptoms associated with fatty liver in NAFLD patients and was found to decrease liver fat (17). However, more research is still needed.
Turmeric improves the body’s ability to digest fats so that they do not accumulate in the liver. It also aids the liver detoxification process.
- Mix ¼ teaspoon of turmeric powder in 1 to 2 glasses of water and boil it. Drink it twice daily for a couple of weeks.
- Turmeric can be hard to absorb in the body. It dissolves better in a fat-containing medium like milk. You can mix ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder in a glass of warm milk and drink it once daily or more.
- Turmeric supplements are available as capsules and tinctures. Look for a supplement that is standardized and offers factors like black pepper to help with its absorption. Talk to your doctor to determine the proper dosage for your condition. Discontinue if there are issues like loose stools, stomach pain or excessive gas.
6. Milk Thistle
Milk thistle has a long history for treating liver and gallbladder problems, even toxic poisoning.
Physicians from long ago have tested the use of milk thistle for benefits like stimulation of breast-milk production, bile secretion, treatment of depression, and protection against mushroom poisoning and other environmental toxins.
The main active constituent of milk thistle is fat-soluble complex called silymarin. Silymarin is distributed throughout the entire plant but is concentrated in the fruits and seeds. It is an antioxidant that prevents the oxidation of fats.
Silymarin is also antifibrotic, inhibiting the scarring of liver tissue. It also has the capability to block toxins in the liver. Furthermore, silymarin can reduce liver injury due to several factors like medication, radiation, iron overload, viral infections like hepatitis, mushroom poisoning, etc. Silymarin has been used to treat alcoholic liver disease, acute and chronic viral hepatitis, and liver disease due to toxins.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), milk thistle has anti-inflammatory properties and is known to protect liver cells from toxins and also promotes regeneration of damaged liver cells (18). Milk thistle is helpful for fatty liver, especially when caused by excess alcohol consumption or diabetes.
- Milk thistle capsules (150 milligrams), can be taken one to three times daily. At this dose milk thistle can act as a natural liver “detox.”
- For ongoing use and liver support, take 50 to 150 milligrams of this capsule daily.
It will be even more effective when blended with other liver and body detoxification herbs and healthy food choices. Needless to say, regular moderate exercise is a must.
You can also use licorice to cure liver problems like non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Licorice root has been used in folk medicine for a very long time, working as a cough expectorant to weight loss aid.
It is known to exhibit both diuretic and anti-inflammatory effects. Plus, it helps settle an upset stomach, alleviate fatigue, boost a positive mood and raise low blood pressure.
It is also used to treat physical ailments ranging from a common cold to liver disease (19). The biologically active components of licorice are liquiritins, liquiritigenin, glycyrrhizic acids and flavones.
According to a 2012 study published in the Phytotherapy Research journal, licorice root extract helps decrease transaminase activities of liver enzymes called ALT (alanine aminotransferase) and AST (aspartate aminotransferase) in non alcoholic fatty liver disease (20). It also prevents liver damage due to heavy metals and toxins.
Another study in 2016 demonstrated that licorice could arrest the advancement of liver injury due to alcohol through antioxidative and anti-inflammatory mechanisms (21).
- Add ½ teaspoon of licorice root to a cup of hot water. Cover and allow it to steep for 5 to 10 minutes. Strain, add a little raw honey and drink this tea 2 times a day.
- Alternatively, mix together 1 tablespoon of licorice powder and 2 teaspoons of honey and have this mixture once daily for several weeks.
- Another option is to add 1 tablespoon of licorice root powder to your smoothie or juice daily.
- Licorice is also available in liquid tincture and capsule forms. Typically, tablet forms of herbal supplements are not effective.
If you are taking licorice supplements, consult your doctor first as they may interfere with certain blood pressure, diabetes and corticosteroid medications.
Caution: Please consult your doctor if you are pregnant, hypertensive, diabetic or have heart disease, kidney disease, hormone sensitive conditions, etc.
According to Ayurveda, both the papaya fruit and its seeds are effective treatments for fatty liver disease. Papaya is a storehouse of nutrients.
It is rich in vitamin B (pantothenic acid, folate, nicotinic acid) and antioxidant vitamins like A, C, and E. It is also rich in minerals like potassium, magnesium, and also has fiber. Papaya has a protective effect against heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.
In a study published in 2010, water-soluble and alcohol-soluble extracts of papaya were investigated for its hepatoprotective effect. The study demonstrated that both types of papaya extracts were able to exert a hepatoprotective effect against the liver damage caused by carbon tetrachloride (22).
Moreover, papaya aids in rapidly burning dietary fats, one of the main causes of fatty liver disease.
- Grind 5 to 6 dried papaya seeds and mix the powder with 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice. Take this 2 times a day for 1 month.
- Eat a few slices of ripe papaya (optionally add honey) once daily.
- Include raw papaya soup and salad in your diet.
9. Indian Gooseberry
Indian gooseberry or amla, growing in the tropics and subtropics is a nutrient loaded fruit and is another effective remedy for fatty liver disease.
The fruit is used for both dietary and medicinal purposes. It is rich in fiber, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals. It is a very rich dietary source of vitamin C and iron. The active constituents of amla include polyphenols, tannins, and flavonoids like quercetin. The high antioxidant activity of vitamin C and other polyphenols helps keep the liver functioning at optimal levels.
It has long been used in traditional Indian Ayurvedic medicine for vigor and vitality. Other medicinal conditions that are traditionally treated with gooseberry are diabetes, diarrhea, dysentery, anemia, inflammation, and menstrual cramps.
Dietary supplementation with gooseberry juice extract and quercetin (active ingredient of gooseberry) was reported to successfully protect the liver from toxic damage caused by alcohol and paracetamol, a pain reliever (23). These results were validated through other studies where amla extracts protected the liver from damage caused by TB drugs (24).
It also helps get rid of harmful toxins from the liver. Moreover, amla is good for people who have high blood cholesterol.
- You can eat 3 or 4 raw amlas daily or include the fruit in your cooking.
- Alternatively, mix 1 teaspoon of amla powder in a glass of warm water and drink it twice daily or add to smoothies, drinks, or foods.
10. Dietary Changes
Follow a healthy plant-based diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole complex grains, and healthy fats to improve your liver function, and treat fatty liver disease.
Dietary modifications go a long way in preventing and managing metabolic disorders like NAFLD. Among several dietary proposals for NAFLD patients, Mediterranean diet is one recommendation which has several benefits. Whole grain foods, nuts, fresh fruit, and vegetables form the crux of the Mediterranean diet (25).
- Avoid all types of high fructose corn syrup.
- Steer clear of white flour or processed foods and include whole-grain products.
- Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids such as flaxseed, chia seeds, walnuts and tofu.
- Eat detoxifying and liver-repairing foods such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, lemons, beets, Swiss chard, artichoke, cabbage, and Brussels sprouts. Chose organic whenever possible. While cooking, lightly steam your vegetables to retain their nutritional value.
- Eat more fiber including fibre-rich fruits like apple, guava, raspberries, and so on. However, do not eat fruits in excess as most fruits are high in sugar. Insoluble fiber such as oats and quinoa can also rid toxins and improve liver function.
- Avoid spicy and fried foods and fatty meats.
- Water – ensure adequate intake of water about 1 ½ to 3 liters per day based on your current body weight or ½ of your body weight (lbs) in ounces. Herbal teas count, but drinks with caffeine do not.
Here’s a bonus remedy for you!
Regular physical exercise can help treat fatty liver disease. A regular exercise program will help you in maintaining a stable body weight as well as fight obesity. It will also increase your metabolism rate and help maintain proper liver function.
Exercise for at least 30 minutes every day. If you are new to exercise, begin with a low-impact exercise regimen and gradually incorporate high-impact exercises. It is best to start exercising under the guidance of an expert.
Brisk walking, jogging and aerobics, HIIT (high-intensity interval training) which involves quick exercise with intense bursts are particularly good for your liver. Swimming, bicycling and other recreational sports are also helpful.
- If you are overweight, take necessary steps for a gradual and sustained weight loss. Rapid weight loss (losing 4 or more pounds a week) can be damaging to the liver.
- Eat a well-balanced diet that is low in saturated fats and high in fiber.
- Correct nutrient deficiencies with balanced multivitamin supplements if you do not eat well and/or are traveling.
- Support digestive functions better as the liver and gut work together. Consider taking a good probiotic like yogurt or a probiotic supplement to help everything.
- Make good sleep a priority to give enough rest to restore the liver and all of the body.
- Minimize sugar and excessive fruit consumption and reduce your intake of fried food.
- Stop drinking alcohol completely.
- If diabetic, try to do your best to keep your blood sugar levels under control.
- Take all necessary steps to keep your cholesterol and triglycerides at healthy levels.
Expert Answers (Q&A)
Answered by Dr. Javier Meza Cardona, MD (Gastroenterology)
Is the condition of fatty liver reversible?
The liver is an organ that can regenerate by itself from a certain point, meaning that if there is no significant scarring, and the cause is treated/cesses to exist, then the liver can return to normal.
Which food items should be avoided if one suffers from a fatty liver?
When dealing with a fatty liver, it is recommended to take a diet low in calories (1200-1600 kcal/d), low in fat (less than 10% saturated fatty acid) and low in carbohydrates (less than 50% total kilocalories). In meeting these needs, the Mediterranean diet is the most effective because it involves taking lots of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, beans, nut and seeds, and olive oil. One way to adopt this diet is to daily take seven servings of fruits and vegetables, include whole grain bread in your diet, use olive oil in place of butter/margarine, eat fish two times a week, and limit your intake of red meat and plain yogurt.
How long does it take to heal from a fatty liver?
If your liver doesn´t have any scarring at all (fibrosis), and you should change your lifestyle (exercise, diet), stop alcohol, and work towards losing your weight, then your liver can heal in about 8-12 weeks.
Can people suffering from a fatty liver drink alcohol at all?
Patients should refrain from alcohol, and in particular, avoid heavy alcohol use- for example having more than 14 drinks per week, or more than 4 drinks on a given day for men and more than 7 drinks per week or more than 3 drinks on a given day for women. Alcohol use in obese patients with fatty liver disease can accelerate the progression of scarring (fibrosis) in the liver.
There are no consistent studies that demonstrate that a light or moderate alcohol consumption can cause damage in the disease progression, that’s why I can´t fully recommend this type of consumption to a person with fatty liver disease.
What precautions should be taken by a person suffering from fatty liver disease?
A person with fatty liver disease should make lifestyle changes such as, starting the recommended diet, exercises and a weight loss regime. With these 3 modifications, a liver can get to normal if there is no extensive scarring in the liver.
If you are diagnosed with fatty liver disease, then you must follow your doctor´s instructions and have a follow up so you can avoid the disease progression. Having fatty liver disease is not a joke; if it is not stopped, it can progress to cirrhosis, and with that all the complications of a chronic liver disease come in.
Can lemon water help treat fatty liver disease?
Drinking lemon water is a really good way to avoid soda and canned drinks. One important thing is that the lemon water should be sugar free.
What precautions can be taken to prevent a fatty liver disease?
Unfortunately, the fatty liver disease as other liver diseases, is silent- it doesn´t have any symptoms until it is in an advanced stage. If you have fatty liver disease, then make these lifestyle changes and monitor your condition. Even if you have not been diagnosed with it but are at a risk of developing it, then it is best to adopt the relevant lifestyle changes to prevent the disease. The fatty liver disease is curable if it is diagnosed in an early stage, but the most important thing is that it can be prevented.
About Dr. Javier Manuel Meza Cardona, MD: Dr. Cardona is a gastroenterologist/hepatologist with 10 years of experience as a medical doctor, supervisor, and researcher, both in Canada and Mexico. He completed his MD from Universidad La Salle, Mexico City, Mexico and Research fellowship in liver diseases from University of Toronto, Canada.
Dr. Cardona uses innovative drugs to manage liver diseases such as PBC, PSC, NASH, HCV, HBV.
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