How to Reverse Fatty Liver Disease

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Thu Jun 08 2023.

Couple holding fruit and laughing.

Fatty liver is a potentially serious condition that occurs when there is fat buildup in the liver. Though all people have some liver fat, too much can affect the organ’s ability to extract nutrients and filter toxins from the blood.

It’s important to know that there are two types of fatty liver disease:

  • Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (AFLD): AFLD occurs when someone drinks too much alcohol.

  • Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD): NAFLD affects people who don’t drink lots of alcohol. It accounts for 25-30% of people with fatty liver. 

Healthy lifestyle changes are essential if you or a loved one have been diagnosed with fatty liver. This article explains what to do for fatty liver disease to help get the liver back in tip-top shape. 

What You’ll Need

The best thing you can do for fatty liver is to eat a healthy diet. But this can be challenging if you order out often or eat a lot of pre-prepared foods. A registered dietitian or nutritionist can develop a meal plan tailored to your specific goals and preferences. 

Steps To Reverse Fatty Liver Disease

Step 1: Limit Your Alcohol Intake

Drinking too much alcohol is one of the most common causes of fatty liver disease. Talk to a doctor about whether or not you can have alcohol. If you have alcoholic fatty liver disease, you need to abstain altogether. But if you have non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, you might be able to drink on occasion.

Step 2: Eat a Balanced Diet

The foods you eat directly contribute to the development of fatty liver disease.

“If you’ve been diagnosed with a fatty liver, aim to eat a healthy diet that’s low in saturated and trans fats and high in fiber,” said Mary Sabat MS, RDN, LD, a registered dietitian nutritionist and ACE-certified trainer. 

Foods that can help combat fatty liver include:

  • Fruits

  • Vegetables

  • Whole grains (e.g., barley, quinoa, and rice)

  • Legumes

  • Lean proteins (e.g., tofu, chicken breast, and salmon)

  • Healthy fats (e.g., almonds, avocado, and sunflower seeds)

Making smart beverage choices is just as important. Avoid sugary and high-calorie drinks like soda, fruit juice, and smoothies. Instead, drink water throughout the day to prevent dehydration and improve liver function. 

Step 3: Avoid Junk Food

Junk food might be tasty, but too much can affect your liver’s health. Over time, poor dietary choices cause fat to build up, resulting in inflammation and scarring (fibrosis) which can cause liver damage or lead to more severe health conditions, such as NASH (nonalcoholic steatohepatitis) or cirrhosis.

“If you have a fatty liver, avoid foods with added sugars, refined carbohydrates, saturated, and trans fats,” Sabat said. “This includes processed foods, fast food, sugary drinks (including alcohol), and desserts.”

Step 4: Maintain a Healthy Weight

Weight loss isn’t easy, but it’s one of the best things you can do for fatty liver disease. 

A groundbreaking study published in 2019 found that people with fatty liver disease who lost 10% of their body weight experienced less liver fat, reduced inflammation, and improved scarring.

Step 5: Exercise Regularly

Moving your body increases blood flow and triggers the production of endorphins (feel-good chemicals). It also helps your liver filter waste and breaks down excess fat. A study published by Penn State College of Medicine confirmed what many had already suspected ––  exercise leads to clinically meaningful reductions in excess liver fat and supports healthy liver function. 

“Our findings can give physicians the confidence to prescribe exercise as a treatment for nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD)." Jonathan Stine, associate professor of medicine and public health sciences, at Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center said in a press release.

Step 6: Manage Underlying Medical Conditions

Medical conditions like diabetes and high cholesterol affect the liver’s ability to extract nutrients from food and filter waste. Keeping these in check through improved nutrition, regular exercise, and routine screenings can significantly reduce your risk of complications.

Step 7: Stick With It

Reversing fatty liver doesn't happen overnight. It’s a long-term process that requires focus and commitment. You might feel discouraged if you aren’t seeing results as soon as you’d like, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t working. Lifestyle changes are more like a marathon than a sprint.

“My doctor shared some of the consequences of fatty liver with me and then scheduled a follow-up ultrasound in three months,” said Dan Morris, a patient who successfully reversed fatty liver.

“I really listened to him and took his instructions to heart. When I went for the follow-up to check on the fatty liver, my nurse and doctor were both surprised. I had lost between 30-40 pounds and was looking much healthier.”

Commonly Asked Quesstions about Fatty Liver Disease

How do I know if I have fatty liver?

Fatty liver disease doesn’t always have symptoms, so a doctor or healthcare provider will most often be the one to point it out during routine blood tests. Abnormalities like higher levels of liver enzymes, especially if you’re managing obesity, are signs that your liver could be damaged. 

What causes fatty liver?

Anybody can develop a fatty liver, but it’s usually most common in people who have certain other risk factors or health conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, or high triglycerides (a type of fat found in blood). Malnutrition, rapid weight loss, and alcohol abuse can also lead to a fatty liver. 

What is the fastest way to cure a fatty liver?

According to the American Liver Foundation, there aren’t yet any medical treatments for fatty liver. The best way to reverse - and prevent - liver damage is through a healthy diet and physical activity. 

Need More Information?

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.