How is nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) treated?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) does not have any treatments associated with it. However, there are some lifestyle recommendations for people with NAFLD to counteract the condition. The best way to treat NAFLD is to decrease risk factors. This includes exercising, eating healthy, maintaining a healthy weight, and lowering cholesterol.
Because NAFLD can be a byproduct of certain medical conditions and medications, a doctor can help you determine the best way to manage these in order to decrease the risk of NAFLD and keep it from turning into a dangerous condition.

The treatment of choice for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is lifestyle modification. For example, if a person has diabetes, he or she should lose weight and work with a primary care doctor and endocrinologist to control hemoglobin A1C and bring it down to a reasonable level.  It's actually kind of a multidisciplinary approach to how this is managed. Sometimes when people are just too obese and they can't seem to be able to lose the weight with diet and exercise, they are referred for possible bariatric surgery. Gastric sleeves have been performed on these people and they do quite well where cholesterol and blood sugar levels come down.

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The number one treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is weight loss. In certain drastic situations a liver transplant may be necessary.

Improvements in diet and increasing exercise are important in the treatment of NAFLD.  Ideally a loss of 10 percent of a person's body weight is desirable. However even lesser amounts are helpful.  There are also surgeries that can help with weight loss if diet and exercise do not help enough. 

Making smart lifestyle changes is the mainstay of treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition in which fat builds up in the liver of someone who drinks little or no alcohol (indicating that alcohol is not a factor in the disease). There is no medication that has been proved to treat this disease successfully.

If you have NAFLD, your doctor may recommend losing weight if you need to, by exercising more and consuming a diet low in fat, cholesterol, salt and sugar. Your doctor may also recommend increasing your intake of vegetables, some fruits and whole-grain foods.

In some cases, taking certain medicines like corticosteroids may increase your risk for NAFLD. If this is true in your case, your doctor will weigh the risks and benefits of being on that medication and advise you. Certain rare metabolic conditions that lead to fat storage in the liver may also increase your risk for NAFLD, and you can discuss your risk for those with your doctor. Often people who have NAFLD have other serious health conditions as well, such as heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes. Managing these conditions may help improve your liver condition and your health overall.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.