Close to 1 in 5 people in India have excess fat in their liver and 1 in 10 have fatty liver disease
And, this is a cause of concern.
According to the doctors, 20% of the people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease will get liver cirrhosis in 20 years, about the same proportion as among the alcoholics. Liver cirrhosis is a condition in which chronic damage to the liver causes scar tissues to replace healthy liver tissues.
“And, nobody would come to know until 80% of their liver is already damaged,” said Dr Acharya.
Liver is the second largest and one of the most complex organs in the body, and it is a key player in the digestive system. But, apart from digestion, liver also helps in fighting infections and illnesses, regulating blood sugar levels, removing toxic substances from the body, controlling cholesterol levels and helping blood to clot. You cannot live without a liver.
“We have not been able to control viral hepatitis; our alcohol consumption has not gone down.Non-alcoholic fatty liver just adds to this burden of diseased liver,” Dr Acharya said.
Who is at risk?
Fatty liver disease runs in the family. “When a patient comes to us for liver transplant, we try to screen everyone in the family for liver disease. And, we do find one or two people who have it. In fact, if one of the siblings has fatty liver disease, the risk of another sibling having it increases many-fold,” said Dr Sarin.
And, it can be in relatively skinny-looking people. “People need to understand that liver fat and body fat are not co-related. If you are obese, have diabetes and high-blood pressure, there is a good chance that you have some sort of liver disease. In fact, two-thirds of the people living with diabetes have liver afflictions. But, you may have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease even if your parents any metabolic problems like diabetes,” Dr Sarin said.
A study done at ILBS found that almost 69% of people with liver cirrhosis had a family history of metabolic problems. In patients with such family history, the age of diagnosis for liver disease was found to be lower, around 45 years as compared to 49 years in people without such history. In patients with both family history and personal history of such metabolic problems, the age of diagnosis was lower than 45.
What should be done?
Know your ALT, says Dr Sarin. “With the epidemic of diabetes and obesity that we have in India now, everyone should know their ALT (alanine aminotransferase test). When the liver is damaged or diseased, it releases a high level of this enzyme into the blood stream,” he said.
People above the age of 45, people with high cholesterol levels or diabetes, people with a family history of diabetes and other metabolic problems, and people who are over-weight or obese across age groups should get an ALT test done.
Best prescription – lifestyle changes
“Cutting down sugar and foods high in glucose and fructose is a must. Having green vegetable helps. And, nobody should have a tummy bulge. Indians are pre-disposed to central obesity as we do not have a lot of fat storing cells in our chest region,” said Dr Acharya.
How to keep your liver healthy:
* Eat healthy and balanced diet
* Eat foods from all the food groups: grains, protein, dairy products, fruits, vegetables and fats
* Eat foods that have lot of fibres such as fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grain breads, rice and cereals
* Exercise regularly
* Say no to alcohol, smoking and drugs
* Maintain your weight
* Prevent hepatitis to protect your liver. It can be caused due to viral infection or when liver is exposed to harmful substances such as alcohol. Hepatitis may occur with limited or no symptoms, but often leads to jaundice, anorexia (poor appetite) and malaise.
* Get vaccinated against hepatitis. There are vaccines for hepatitis A and hepatitis B.
Tips for liver cleansing
* Eat garlic, grapefruit, carrot, green leafy vegetables, apple and walnuts
* Use olive oil
* Take lemon and lime juice and green tea
* Prefer alternative grains (Quinoa, Millet and Buckwheat)
* Add cruciferous vegetables (Cabbage, Broccoli and Cauliflower)
* Use turmeric in food
Courtesy: Anonna Dutt, Hindustan Times