Weight gain can be a sign that your liver isn’t functioning well. Online personal trainer Andrew Cate investigates the link between lifestyle and liver function.

What role does the liver play in regulating weight?

The liver has an important role to play in maintaining a healthy body weight. In addition to controlling hormonal balance, the liver produces bile that emulsifies and absorbs fat in the small intestine. However, if your liver lacks essential nutrients or is overwhelmed by toxins, it will stop functioning efficiently. And if there is not enough bile produced, fat may be stored instead of processed.

How does lifestyle impact upon your liver?

While the impact of excess body fat on your heart and joints is well known, there is also a significant effect on your liver.

A recent study found that too much fast food and too little exercise can harm the liver in as little as a few weeks. Healthy volunteers ate two fast food meals a day, and adopted a sedentary lifestyle. At the end of the 4 week study, 61% of the volunteers had abnormally elevated levels of a liver enzyme (ALT) that rises with inflammation and injury to the liver. Liver scans also showed an average threefold increase in the amount of fat in the liver compared with benchmark readings from before the study.

This study supports additional research which found that physical activity can bring about improvements in people with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).

What is NAFLD?

NAFLD, also known as hepatic steatosis, is thought to affect up to one third of the adult population. The liver becomes slightly enlarged and heavier because the liver cells and the spaces in between are filled with fat.

The symptoms of NAFLD

  • Excess body fat, especially in the abdominal area
  • Difficulty losing weight
  • Elevated cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • Insulin resistance
  • Fatigue
  • Frequent illness from problems with your immune system

Can NAFLD be reversed?

Losing excess body fat, or maintaining a healthy level of body fat, is important for enhancing liver health. By helping your liver function efficiently, the body will find it easier to metabolise fat and prevent fat storage.

Natural therapies to improve liver function

Both artichoke and dandelion root have traditionally been used to stimulate bile production. They also stimulate the movement of bile to the gallbladder and assist the liver in eliminating and breaking down fats. Both these herbs increase bile flow and help to improve fat metabolism.

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