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October 23, 2011

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Fatty liver troubling sign of the times

FATTY liver is an increasingly common problem and it is frequently associated with obesity, excessive intake of "bad" fats and heavy drinking of alcohol.

Fatty liver disease, when fat makes up 5-10 percent of liver weight, can be very serious, but fatty liver can generally be reversed by getting frequent cardio exercise and eating a healthy diet, one that is low in transfats, saturated fats and cholesterol, and rich in oils like olive oil.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can also be caused by malnutrition and excessive dieting, which causes the body to send fat to the liver for storage. Doctors have noted fatty liver in quite a few young women who are dieting. They are usually asymptomatic, but fatty liver turns up in routine blood tests and tests for liver enzymes.

As Chinese people become better off, they eat richer food, including more fast food; they drink more alcohol and lead a more sedentary life with little exercise.

The number of people with fatty liver has increased sharply in the recent years, especially among young or middle-aged men, according to Dr Wang Xiaosu, from the Digestive System Department of Yueyang Hospital attached to the Shanghai University of Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Fatty liver is a problem of insufficient fat metabolism in the liver. It's often linked to high blood fat, high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Nonalcoholic fatty liver may also be linked to pregnancy, bacteria, inflammation, viral hepatitis, medications, immune problems and other factors. It often runs in families.

Heavy drinkers are at especially high risk and alcoholic fatty liver disease is more dangerous than nonalcoholic. When the liver is forced to metabolize too much alcohol, it metabolizes less fat.

In serious cases, fat can form large vacuoles inside liver cells, pushing the nucleus to the side, damaging cells and impairing function; fatty cysts can form irreversible lesions.

"Though fatty liver sounds like a problem of too much fat, trying to eliminate all fats from the diet won't help prevent or relieve it," says Dr Wang. "Malnutrition can also trigger fatty liver."

In the case of malnutrition, since the body cannot get enough energy from food, it moves fat and protein stored elsewhere in the body to the liver for storage and conversion to energy as needed. That's why some women who eat almost nothing but vegetables can develop fatty liver.

In general, fat accounts for only 3-4 percent of liver weight; when it's over 5 percent, there's a problem. In severe cases, fat can represent 40-50 percent of liver weight.

Since most patients feel nothing in early stages, the problem is not identified and gets worse.

"Early diagnosis and treatment is important since fatty liver can be easily cured by adjusting lifestyle," says Dr Wang. "But that's more difficult if liver cells are damaged and the liver becomes inflamed."

Without intervention and change in habits, fatty liver can develop into fibrosis, cirrhosis or cancer.

TCM regards fatty liver as a problem of accumulated "pathogenic damp" and stagnating blood and energy. Practitioners prescribe herbs to dispel damp and activate energy circulation - in addition to healthier diet and regular exercise.

Prescribed herbal teas include jiao gu lan (gynostemma pentaphylla), san qi (pseudo-ginseng), oolong, lotus leaf, and jue ming zi (cassia seeds).

Herbal teas

? Sesame green tea

Ingredients: Sesame powder (20g), green tea bag (6g)


1. Brew the green tea, and then add sesame powder to make it thicker.

2. Drink twice daily.

Benefits: Green tea is commonly used in treatment of fatty liver and high cholesterol. This tea also activates blood circulation and helps dissolve fat. Helps treat many kinds of liver problems.

? San qi (pseudo-ginseng), chrysanthemum and green tea

Ingredients: San qi (5g), chrysanthemum (5g) and green tea (1g)

Preparations: Brew tea, drink often

Benefits: Helps prevent and relieve fatty liver problem

? Ze xie (rhizoma alismatis) and oolong tea

Ingredients: Ze xie (water plantain tuber) (12g), oolong tea (3g)


1. Boil ze xie in water for 15 minutes, filter, add oolong tea.

2. Makes 30-50 cups. Drink daily.

Benefits: Helps dissolve fat and protect liver; recommended for obese people.


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