Discover the silent killer that is putting you at greater risk for heart attack and stroke
(NaturalHealth365) Heart disease, the top cause of death in the United States, claims about 610,000 lives (every year) – while a stroke can kill an additional 140,000. Solid research shows that a common (but insidious) condition can increase the risk of both a heart attack and stroke – often without any clear symptoms.
The fact is: nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is increasingly recognized by researchers as a “silent” threat to cardiovascular health.
NAFLD, which currently affects close to 30 million Americans, is the most common liver disorder in the United States. While many cases of NAFLD are mild, the danger is that untreated NAFLD can progress to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, (or NASH) – a much more serious condition with potentially life-threatening consequences.
Heart attack ALERT: A true threat to heart health
NAFLD, which is considered to be present when fat constitutes more than 5 percent of the liver, is characterized as “nonalcoholic” because it develops in the absence of excessive (alcohol) drinking.
Symptoms of fatty liver disease can include fatigue, dark-colored urine, weight loss, excessive sweating, pale-colored or black (and dark red)-looking stools, lack of appetite, jaundice (yellowing of skin or the whites of the eyes) and abdominal pain – especially in the upper right side of the stomach.
Mild cases of NAFLD may feature no symptoms, and people may be unaware that they have the condition – until elevated liver enzymes provide a tip-off.
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However, NAFLD can be present even when routine blood tests don’t pick up elevated enzymes, making it difficult to detect. Here’s a tip to keep in mind: if you think you may have fatty liver disease, ask your doctor for an ultrasound – a more reliable way of diagnosing the condition.
While excessive alcohol use doesn’t play a role in NAFLD, excessive calorie consumption does. Being overweight or obese, being sedentary, and eating a diet high in processed foods and refined sugars can create a sort of “perfect storm” for the development of NAFLD.
Up to 20 percent of people with fatty liver will progress to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis – an inflammatory response to the excess fat in the liver. If untreated, NASH can lead to liver cancer, liver cirrhosis (scarring), liver failure – and even death.
As serious as these consequences are, researchers say there is yet another concern.
Leading liver expert says NAFLD “more likely” to lead to heart attack than to cirrhosis
Multiple clinical studies have shown a strong association between fatty liver disease and cardiovascular disease.
Experts list NAFLD as one of the most accurate predictors of whether someone will develop coronary artery disease – and the link between the two conditions is so pronounced that it led Dr. Howard Monsour, Director of Hepatology at The Methodist University in Houston, to make an eye-opening observation.
“Most people who have fatty liver disease are more likely to die from a heart attack than (from) cirrhosis of the liver,” states Dr. Monsour.
In addition, studies have shown that people with NAFLD are much more likely to suffer from metabolic syndrome – a cluster of unhealthy conditions that includes excessive abdominal fat, high blood pressure, insulin resistance and high triglycerides.
Of course, these factors all raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.
In a study published in 2017 in PLoS One, researchers evaluated over 500 patients undergoing coronary angiography and found that 70 percent of the patients had “clinically relevant” stage 3 coronary artery disease, involving a reduction of more than 75 percent in the diameter of coronary arteries.
But that wasn’t the surprising part.
The team found that the incidence of NAFLD – 71 percent – dovetailed neatly with the 70-percent coronary artery disease prevalence, reinforcing their conclusion that the two conditions were closely linked.
The team also detected higher degrees of liver steatosis (excessive fat and inflammation) in patients with coronary artery disease.
Clearly, the life-threatening complications of NAFLD can include not only liver-related disorders, but stroke and heart disease as well.
Reverse NAFLD with lifestyle changes
The good news: unlike other body organs, the liver has the ability to regenerate and repair itself. With simple – but wide-ranging – lifestyle changes, NAFLD can be prevented, treated and even reversed.
Begin by eliminating or sharply reducing your consumption of alcohol, refined sugar, fatty foods, processed foods and junk food.
Following an organic (non-GMO!) diet can help reduce the toxin burden on a fatty liver.
According to functional doctor Mark Hyman, MD, you can reverse fatty liver disease by eating smaller amounts of processed carbohydrates, and larger amounts of dietary fiber and healthy fats (such as those in coconut oil and grass-fed beef).
Dr. Hyman also advises consuming healthy amounts of high-quality protein in the form of chicken, eggs, nuts, seeds and fish.
Cruciferous vegetables such as Brussels sprouts, cabbage and broccoli sprouts can help to promote the production of glutathione (the body’s most important disease-fighting antioxidant, and a mainstay of liver health).
Routine, consistent exercise can improve metabolism of fats and improve liver health. Generally speaking, it’s advised to get between 75 and 150 minutes a week of aerobic exercise – such as brisk walking, jogging and swimming – interspersed with weight training.
Support liver health with natural supplements
For many natural health experts, milk thistle is the treatment of choice for liver problems. This beneficial herb is high in a flavonoid called silymarin – and it stands ready to “roll up its sleeves” and go to work against liver disease symptoms.
Studies have supported silymarin’s amazing ability to regrow liver cells, detoxify the liver, protect against oxidative damage, improve insulin resistance, regulate the metabolism of fats – and more.
In a 2010 review published in Phytotherapy Research, scientists lauded milk thistle as a potent antioxidant that could help treat liver disease and viral hepatitis.
Opt for non-GMO milk thistle supplements, standardized to contain 70 to 80 percent silymarin.
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is highly prized in Ayurveda and in Traditional Chinese Medicine for supporting liver function. This potent antioxidant flavonoid decreases liver fat and supports detoxification.
But, keep in mind: while turmeric adds a zippy taste and appealing color to recipes, it is difficult to obtain therapeutic levels of curcumin by diet alone. Fortunately, curcumin is available as a supplement, with integrative healthcare providers typically suggesting dosages ranging from 450 mg to 1,000 mg a day for liver health.
N-acetyl cysteine – a supplemental form of the amino acid cysteine – is so beneficial to the liver that it is currently the gold standard in hospitals for treating liver damage resulting from acetaminophen overdose.
NAC’s “superpower” is its ability to restore and replenish levels of life-sustaining glutathione that has been depleted by toxins or illness. Multiple studies have supported NAC’s ability to improve liver function in patients with NAFLD.
Naturally, check with your experienced integrative or functional medicine doctor before adding any supplements to your health regimen – especially if you suffer with a chronic health condition.
The truth is: you really can help to repair and rejuvenate a fatty, unhealthy liver with healing foods, consistent exercise and appropriate supplementation. And, as an added bonus: you’ll be reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease.
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Sources for this article include: