Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease describes a range of conditions caused by a build-up of fat within liver cells. It is very common and in many cases is linked to being obese or overweight. Most people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease do not develop serious liver problems. In some people the build-up of fat in the liver can lead to serious liver problems. However, all people with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular problems such as heart attack and stroke. If you are obese or overweight, a main treatment advised for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is usually gradual weight loss and regular exercise.
What is the treatment for non-alcoholic fatty liver disease?
Treatment of obesity and overweight
Most cases of NAFLD are linked to being obese or overweight. There is good evidence that a programme of gradual weight loss and regular exercise can reduce the amount of fat in your liver. So, if you have simple fatty liver or mild NASH, this may prevent or delay the progression of NAFLD. It may reduce your chance of developing cirrhosis. In some people who are very obese, obesity surgery may be considered as studies have shown that this may help to improve NASH.
Treatment of linked conditions and risk factors
As mentioned, having NAFLD increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. In fact, people with NAFLD are actually more likely to become ill and die from cardiovascular diseases such as heart attack than from a liver problem. Therefore, your doctor is likely to stress the importance of reducing any 'lifestyle' risk factors that increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease. For example, not smoking, keeping your weight in check, taking regular exercise, and eating a healthy balanced diet. See separate leaflet called 'Preventing Cardiovascular Diseases' for more details. Also, to treat high blood pressure and a high cholesterol level, if appropriate.
If you have diabetes, then good control of your blood glucose level is thought to help reduce the risk of NAFLD getting worse.
It is also advised that you do not drink any alcohol. NAFLD (by definition) is not caused by alcohol. However, even modest amounts of alcohol may make NAFLD worse.
Medication that affects the liver itself
Various drugs have been suggested as possible treatments for NAFLD. However, there is little research evidence to say that any drug works very well. For example, for NASH, no treatment has been proved to stop or reverse the inflammation. Various drugs are currently being trialled in different studies. One or more drugs may emerge as treatments in the future.