By Guy Neff, M.D., M.B.A., Florida Research Institute

December 23, 2019

Early Detection and Lifestyle Changes

While many people opt to live in Florida to enjoy the benefits of clement weather and opportunities for more time outdoors, residing in the Sunshine State is not a guarantee for a healthier, thriving lifestyle. What many Floridians may not know about is a silent epidemic of liver disease that is on the rise not only in Florida but also across the country. It’s called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and it’s the most common type of liver disease in the Western world – associated with obesity, insulin resistance, and diabetes. In fact, Florida has the 13th highest obesity rate for young people ages 10-17, and the overall obesity rate is up from 11.4% in 1990 to 28.4% in 2018. This data foreshadows the looming impact of liver disease as a significant health issue sooner than anyone could have predicted.

liver shown inside human body

Be In The Know About NAFLD

NAFLD includes a range of diseases from simple steatosis to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH), fibrosis and cirrhosis. Children as young as five are also developing fatty liver disease from too little physical activity and excessive consumption of sugars, sodas, fructose, and corn syrup. Fortunately, NAFLD is reversible if caught early and accompanied by lifestyle changes. What’s more, simple screening and early detection with available non-invasive technologies can help to prevent more serious conditions, such as end-stage liver disease or liver cancer. If you are overweight, obese, have diabetes or are concerned about your liver health, talk to your doctor about how your liver function impacts your health and find out if you are at risk for liver disease.

You Only Have One Liver

The best approach is to maintain a healthy lifestyle through diet and exercise, including aerobic activity, such as walking and weight-bearing exercise to burn carbohydrates, fats, and proteins to enable the liver to function more efficiently. Small changes in body weight can have a significant impact on liver health. Even as little as three percent weight loss can improve insulin resistance and metabolism; five to seven percent weight loss can improve fatty liver disease and inflammation, and as high as ten percent weight loss can improve inflammation and scarring in the liver. It’s also important to avoid alcohol, particularly if you have pre-existing liver disease.

Follow These Tips for A Healthy Diet:

  • Avoid excess sugars, hydrogenated fats, fast foods, and packaged and processed foods.
  • Only shop around the edges of the grocery store to avoid the aisles and freezer sections.
  • Processed foods from a box, bag, bottle, can or fast food window may not be your best choice for health.
  • Eating healthy whole foods, with a higher protein, lower carbohydrate diet, is the best way to avoid fatty liver disease.

Talk to Your Doctor About Liver Disease

Ask your doctor during your next physical or upcoming appointment about liver screening and learn as much as you can about how to avoid liver disease, especially if you are obese or have diabetes. FibroScan, for example, is a two-minute screening that can offer a quick estimate of your liver’s fat content and stiffness. It can be performed in the doctor’s office as part of an annual exam and is covered by Medicare, Medicaid, and most insurance plans. Test scores provide instant results your primary care physician can use to monitor changes in your liver health, to refer you to a specialist or recommend additional assessments if needed.

Published in Wire Magazine

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