Baylor College of Medicine News

Regaining a healthy liver, one pound at a time

For those at risk of developing cirrhosis of the liver resulting from nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, each pound lost is a step towards regaining your health, say doctors at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

"Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is increasing in the United States as the obesity epidemic continues," said Dr. John Vierling, professor of medicine and surgery and chief of hepatology at BCM.

Cirrhosis is a condition associated with dense scarring and regenerating nodules on the liver. It can result from a number of illnesses, including alcoholic and viral hepatitis, autoimmune and metabolic liver diseases. Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease causes cirrhosis when a large amount of fat accumulates in the liver in the presence of damaging inflammation.

"It's important for people to understand that cirrhosis can be caused by obesity and its associated metabolic problems in adults and children," said Vierling. "Too often people mistakenly think it is only associated with over consumption of alcohol or viral hepatitis and don't recognize their own risks."

Reaching a healthy weight is one way to reverse the damage to the liver. For many people the thought of having to lose 100 to 200 pounds is daunting, but Vierling said losing 10 percent of your excess body weight can help the liver begin to heal.

"Losing 10 percent body weight primarily reduces fat inside the abdomen, which triggers a significant amount of liver healing," he said. "It's easy for people to get discouraged when it comes to weight loss, but understanding that every pound lost is helping your liver heal is motivating."

Vierling adds that other health issues are associated with obesity, such as diabetes and high lipids also contribute to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. So it's important to consult a doctor for evaluation and advice on managing these conditions.

"The liver is one of the five major organs in the body that you can't live without," Vierling said. "So doing everything you can to prevent liver disease is important to staying healthy."