Monday, June 22, 2009

Fatty Liver Reversal

On April 15th, I received an e-mail from a reader who I'll call Sam. Sam told me that he had elevated levels of the liver enzyme ALT (alanine transaminase) in his blood, which indicates liver damage. ALT is an enzyme contained in liver cells that's released into the bloodstream when they rupture. Sam also had fatty liver confirmed by biopsy.

Liver damage with fat accumulation is very common in the United States. According to the NHANES health and nutrition surveys, in the time period 1999-2002, 8.9% of Americans had elevated ALT. Just 10 years earlier (1988-1994), the number was 4.0%. Fatty liver is a growing epidemic that currently affects roughly a quarter of Americans.
Sam told me he had been trying to reverse his fatty liver for nearly a decade without success, and asked if I had any thoughts. He was not overweight, and from what I could gather, his diet was already better than most. I believe Sam knew intuitively that the right diet would improve his condition. With the usual caveats that this is not advice and I'm not a doctor, here's what I told him:
The quality of fat you eat has a very large influence on health, and especially on the liver. Excess omega-6 is damaging to the liver. This type of fat is found primarily in refined seed oils such as corn oil, soybean oil, and safflower oil... Sugar is also a primary contributor to fatty liver. Reducing your sugar intake will go a long way toward reversing it. Omega-3 fats also help reverse fatty liver if an excess of omega-6 is present. There was a clinical trial using fish oil that was quite effective. You might try taking 1/2 teaspoon of fish oil per day.
On May 11, I received another e-mail from him:
The day after your recommendations, less than a month ago, I started a regimen of 1200 mg/day of fish oil concentrate.

At the same time, I significantly reduced or even eliminated all forms of sugar from my diet. I did have a half glass of orange juice for breakfast every few days or so, and some fruits, and maybe a taste of dessert or a small candy bar here and there. I never exceeded the 30 g/day sugar limit you suggested.

I completely eliminated any and all fried foods and avoided most oils. I also avoided high glycemic index foods to some degree, e.g. white bread and potatoes. I did eat quite a bit more protein, including red meat, eggs, fish, chicken, and pork.

The balance of my diet and lifestyle was largely unchanged. I do drink a couple of beers every two to three weeks, but never more than three drinks in day. I have been doing more yard work, simply because of the season. Other than that, I don't get much more exercise than a typical inactive office worker.
In the same e-mail, he sent me his new ALT test results. He had been getting tested since 2002. The latest result, reflecting his progress since adopting the new diet, followed the previous test by less than a month. Here's a graph of his ALT levels. Below 50 is considered normal: The latest test was 52, just on the cusp of normal. That's nearly 50% lower than his next lowest result over the past 7 years, in less than one month of eating well. I suspect that his next ALT test will be well within the normal range, and the fat in his liver will gradually disappear, if he continues this diet. When I asked him how he was feeling, he said:
I did feel different after adjusting my diet. It's hard to describe, but overall I just felt better. I wasn't as tired when I woke up in the morning and I became a little slimmer, not a lot, maybe 3-5 pounds [note: he was not overweight to begin with]. I figured it was a placebo effect, but I think the fish oil has made a real difference.

Yesterday I had a few potato chips, corn chips, and some others. I didn't like it at all. Today I had half of a brownie for an afternoon snack and I completely crashed after an hour or so. I had a hard time keeping my eyes open. I no longer have much of a craving for snack food, I prefer to eat a full meal with more protein, e.g. beans, meat etc.
Fatty liver is a serious problem that responds readily to diet. I believe the main culprits are excess omega-6 from industrial vegetable oils; insufficient omega-3 from seafood, leafy greens and pastured animal foods; and excess sugar. The liver is your "metabolic gatekeeper", so it pays to take care of it.

How to Fatten Your Liver
Excess Omega-6 Fat Damages Infants' Livers
Health is Multi-Factorial


  1. Good sharing, yes, liver dysfunction adversely affects the digestive, immune, endocrine, circulatory and nervous systems in a variety of ways. I would recommend Lifestream Chlorella supplement. It contains a high concentration of chlorophyII, Chlorella Growth Factor (CGF), nucleic aids, amino acids, enzymes, antioxidants, vitamins and minerals all beneficial to overall liver health maintenance and restoration. Read more at:

  2. I have mild fatty liver but also cholesterolosis (Gallbladder polyps) do you know how to get rid of or shrink them?
    I have heard that low carb is good to help reverse fatty liver, losing weight also can help, drinking coffee also, but some like Mcdougall suggest low fat high carb diet, Im confused.

  3. Very informative knowledge of liver health. It is true that fat can mostly be the influence. Thank you for sharing.

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