Adolescent Health Clinic: Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
What is NAFLD (non-alcoholic fatty liver disease)?
- NAFLD is a condition where fat deposits build up in the liver.
- NAFLD is very common – about 1 in 5 teens have NAFLD
- It usually doesn’t cause symptoms, especially in early stages.
- It is often detected first by a blood test that shows elevated ALT (a lab test that looks at one of your liver enzymes), and then confirmed by liver ultrasound.
- NAFLD occurs on a spectrum. It can be very mild and reversible, or can cause inflammation and scarring in the liver.
Why do we care about NAFLD?
- NAFLD can contribute to more serious diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure, cirrhosis (scaring) of the liver, and heart disease.
- In its most serious forms, NAFLD can lead to liver failure requiring liver transplant or leading to death.
Who is at risk?
- Diets that are high in sugar, processed foods, and simple carbohydrates can increase the risk of NAFLD.
- Teens who are more sedentary or don’t participate in regular body movement are at higher risk.
- Boys develop NAFLD more often than girls.
- People with a family history of NAFLD and certain ethnicities are at higher risk of developing this condition.
How is NAFLD diagnosed?
For many people, the first sign of NAFLD may be found on blood tests. A blood test called ALT (alanine transaminase) is an enzyme found in the liver. Someone’s ALT is often high if they have NAFLD. However, while a high ALT may be NAFLD, it can also be due to other causes. Imaging studies like an ultrasound, CT, or MRI can support a diagnosis of NAFLD, but a definitive diagnosis comes from a liver biopsy. A liver biopsy may not be needed for everyone suspected of having NAFLD.
The good news!
The liver is a very forgiving organ and fatty liver can be reversed through regular exercise, eating healthy foods, reducing screen time, and getting enough sleep (9 hours).
How do you reverse fatty liver or lower your ALT?
- Eat regular meals and healthy snacks throughout the day (don’t skip meals). This will help prevent major changes in the body.
- Reduce sugar consumption – limit juice and soda, for example.
- Move your body! Aim to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity 3-5 days per week. This doesn’t mean you have to run a marathon or join a gym. Find something you love. Try a yoga video, a new sport, or dance. Going on a walk is a great form of body movement.
- Don’t let one bad day discourage you. Try again the next day!
Nutrition tips to reverse fatty liver:
- MORE: water, wheat and rye bread, brown rice, home-cooked meals, fruits, nuts, vegetables, fish, check, eggs, oatmeal
- LESS: sugary drinks (soda, juice, Starbucks Frappuccino), white bread, white rice, fast food, candy, chips, frozen food, deli meats, sweetened cereal, bagels, donuts
HOT TIP! Drinking a cup of regular coffee each day can help improve NFALD. Just make sure to not add sugary creamer and instead use plain half-and-half.
This information is not specific to your child but provides general information. If you have any questions, please call your clinic.
This page is not specific to your child, but provides general information on the topic above. If you have any questions, please call your clinic. For more reading material about this and other health topics, please call or visit Children's Minnesota Family Resource Center library, or visit www.childrensmn.org/educationmaterials.
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