Metabolic health tied to liver health?
A few years back, I was attending a diabetes conference in San Diego and one of the researchers stated, “your liver is a mirror into your metabolic health and adipose tissue dysfunction.”
What exactly does that mean?
It has many meanings but here’s a quick breakdown – if your liver is not working optimally, it will not only affect your overall health but also your ability to regulate your blood sugars, metabolize fat, and maintain optimal gut health just to name a few.
Just recently, I was listening to a podcast on the People’s Pharmacy on Dr. Robert Lustig’s new book: Metabolical: The Lure and Lies of Processed Food, Nutrition, and Modern Medicine, and it reminded me of that lecture. Dr. Lustig is a pediatric neuroendocrinologist at UCSF.
He discusses how non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is now an epidemic and was not even a medical diagnosis before 1980. It is estimated that 45% of adults, and 25% of children have it and most are not even aware of it. Paying attention to this hidden medical condition early on can help with combating more serious issues in the future.
Many think fatty liver is caused from fat in the diet but that is not the case – it is actually caused by excess sugars we consume. When you consume more sugar than your body can metabolize, it goes to the liver and when the liver gets overwhelmed it converts that sugar to fat in much the same way it does with alcohol.
Dr. Lustig states “fatty liver and type 2 diabetes are now the diseases of 5-year-olds.”
What? How can this be? Consider our food supply – ultra processed foods, full of sugar and devoid of fiber, not to mention the inflammatory industrial seed oils used (soybean, corn, vegetable, etc.), pesticides, etc. And what do the majority of children in the U.S. eat – processed, packaged foods full of sugars, inflammatory oils and chemicals.
It’s a lot to take in so where do we start?
- Measure – start with measuring your waist circumference (WC). To measure your WC, place the tape measurement around your waist at the point of your belly button. Men with a WC larger than 40 inches and women with a 35-inch waist or greater are at a higher risk not only for fatty liver, but heart disease and diabetes due to increased visceral (deep belly) fat. The second parameter to measure is your liver enzymes, but be aware that abnormalities may not show up till you already have fatty liver. One common blood test is known as ALT and the normal used to be 25 and was increased to 40 which Dr. Lustig thinks is too high (and was changed to accommodate the changes in our diets). Other blood tests that may be elevated due to fatty liver are triglycerides, uric acid, glucose, and insulin.
- Manage – consider eating real organic non-packaged, non-processed foods preferably with fiber. Non-starchy veggies, salads, nuts/seeds, avocado, organic protein (grass-fed meats, pastured eggs, wild fish, etc.) and healthy fats (grass-fed butter, olive oil, coconut oil, ghee) contain readily available nutrients to keep inflammation at bay. As opposed to years ago, there are hundreds of sites with creative recipes to keep your meals interesting, fun and user-friendly.
- Move to time restricted eating (TRE) – If you want to create health in your body the health of the liver is a crucial component. Besides the integrity of your diet, time restricted eating (eating in a shorter window of time) helps with reversal of fatty liver. With TRE you are in essence allowing the liver to “rest and reset” and if there is buildup of fat the fasting helps with “clearing out the tanks.”
Although muffins, waffles and cupcakes are tasty, they are sugar laden and fuel to the fire in terms of a dysfunctional liver and metabolic health. It takes time to acclimate your cravings and lower your taste threshold for sweet (as sugar is quite addictive) but over the course of time it can be done and the value for overall health cannot be overestimated.
The good news is incorporating these lifestyle therapies can reverse fatty liver in addition to preventing many other health challenges – thus changing the mirror of your metabolic and overall health.