One of the most wondrous features of the liver is its ability to heal, and life-threatening liver conditions, if they're halted in time, can be completely reversed. There are two different kinds of fatty liver conditions: alcoholic and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. They both have distinct timelines and healing protocols. This article covers both conditions and answers the question: how long does it take to reverse fatty liver disease?
What Causes Fatty Liver Disease?
Determining the underlying cause of fatty liver disease is the first step in the reversal process. Here are the two avenues by which most people arrive at fatty liver disease.
Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (ALD)
Alcoholic fatty liver disease is brought on by long-term alcohol use and abuse. Alcohol is a toxic substance, and as one of your main detoxification organs your liver, along with your kidneys, bears the brunt of this abuse. Long-term alcohol use causes liver damage by weakening liver cells, which then leads to widespread inflammation that impedes the normal work of the organ.
When fatty deposits (triglycerides) begin to clog the liver faster than it can filter them out, fatty liver develops.
Fatty liver can then progress to an enlarged liver (almost completely painless and therefore dangerously difficult to diagnose), alcoholic hepatitis (which may present with abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, fever, and jaundice), and finally, alcoholic cirrhosis. Cirrhosis is the buildup of scar tissue in the liver (known as fibrosis) that leads ultimately to liver failure, which may be fatal.
At every step along the way, a person's survival rate increases if they can manage their addiction and cease drinking alcohol.
Nonalcoholic Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD)
Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by a greater variety of factors, including fatty buildup from a poor diet, lack of exercise, genetic predisposition, or health conditions related to metabolic syndrome such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. With so many potential causes—no one more or less relevant than the others—the sweeping dietary and lifestyle changes one has to make to reverse nonalcoholic fatty liver disease can be extremely challenging.
Nevertheless, it is vitally important that people with NAFLD do everything they can to lose excess fat from their frame, cut down on overall body weight, and improve blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity. Any amount of fat built up in the liver slows down the body's whole machine, contributes massively to risk factors for heart disease and prediabetes, and can ultimately lead to life-threatening liver conditions like nonalcoholic steatohepatitis.
Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH, is the most severe form of NAFLD. NASH leads to higher instances of death in patients with cardiovascular conditions, and much like alcoholic fatty liver disease, it too progresses into fibrosis (scarring of liver tissue), cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure, and sometimes early death if a liver transplant can't be had in time.
What Are the Early Warning Signs of Fatty Liver Disease?
The sooner you realize your liver is in peril, the better your prospects are for reversing the buildup of fat and reducing liver inflammation before you're in a life-threatening situation or in need of a liver transplant.
The most well-known signs of liver damage usually come at the end-stage of liver disease, like pain, an escalation of other health problems, or jaundice (yellowing of the skin or sclera of the eye).
Here are the earliest signs of fatty liver disease:
- General fatigue
- Mental confusion
- Discomfort in the upper right side of your torso where the liver is located
- Abdominal pain or swelling
- Swelling of the legs
- Itchy skin
- Clusters of web-like blood vessels beneath the skin
- Loss of appetite or unexplained weight loss
Again, many of these symptoms may not appear until later in the game after the damage has already been done, so if you feel persistently unwell and can't pinpoint a reason, make an appointment with your doctor and request blood tests.
Some of the early symptoms of fatty liver disease, if you experience them at all, could also be the symptoms of an autoimmune disorder or another underlying condition. The doctor may measure your liver enzyme levels, conduct other liver function tests, or even perform a liver biopsy to confirm the diagnosis.
How Long Does It Take to Reverse Fatty Liver Disease?
Once you know what you're dealing with and you're in that golden window of time where you can still recover your liver's full function, how long does it take?
The answer depends on which type of fatty liver disease you are working with, the stage you're at, and whether or not there are any other surrounding health conditions.
That being said, here is what we know: it is possible to reverse fatty liver disease in as little as 6 weeks.
Keep in mind that a complete reversal of fatty liver disease in under 2 months is the ideal circumstance. It is possible with an otherwise healthy person who becomes aware of their liver buildup in the early stages and immediately takes steps to remedy it. Adherence to certain lifestyle changes is key, including the following alterations.
- Abstain. This is certainly the first step in alcohol-induced fatty liver disease, but even for those who only drink occasionally, abstaining from any toxin like alcohol and drugs (including unnecessary over-the-counter medications) helps take the pressure off your liver so it can prioritize healing.
- Diet. The fatty liver diet removes problematic foods such as those with high carbs or artificial flavors and processed sweeteners like fructose in favor of a lower carb diet made up of foods such as whole grains, fruits and veggies, and healthy fats like fish, nuts, and seeds that contain omega-3 fatty acids that help you control full-body inflammation levels.
- Exercise. Hand in hand with a healthy diet comes regular exercise. If you've been living a sedentary life, this doesn't mean it's time to train for a triathlon (although we certainly encourage you to set that goal for the near future if you'd like), but it does mean scheduling regular physical activity, be it evening walks, a fitness class at your local gym, or taking up a sport with a friend.
- Rest. By rest, we mean getting regular, high-quality sleep and prioritizing activities that help you de-stress, whether that means morning yoga, movies with friends, calming dates with your loved one, or weekend activities with your kids. Stress amplifies inflammation in the body, and getting control over your schedule to make time for soothing events can help lower it at much as any medication or supplement.
- Supplement. Be sure to ask your doctor before starting any new supplement, but when it comes to reversing fatty liver, natural supplements may be far preferable to medications that contribute to the liver's workload. Amino acids, turmeric, milk thistle, and vitamin E have all been proven to help repair the liver.
Amino Acids, Milk Thistle, and Other Natural Liver Repair Aids
As we've said, how long it takes to reverse fatty liver disease depends on many factors, but there are universal ways to help speed up healing. Following your doctor's advice to the letter is step one, but you could also help boost your remedy with the following scientifically backed natural liver aids.
1. Amino Acids
Human beings depend on 20 amino acids (out of the more than 700 known amino acids that exist in the world) to build muscle and function normally. Some of these amino acids are absolutely vital to a speedy liver recovery.
We've long known that the liver is important for amino acid metabolism alongside its detox duties. But researchers recently examined the therapeutic effects of amino acids in liver diseases and discovered that the liver requires a handful of essential and nonessential amino acids in order to synthesize lipids, metabolize cell material, and detoxify the blood. This 2019 review highlighted the amino acids that aid fatty detox. Let's take a look at how they can help hasten fatty liver recovery.
Produced naturally as a result of glycolysis (the use of glucose as energy by our muscles), alanine is a nonessential amino acid. Under normal circumstances, the body can make enough alanine to meet its needs, but in times of an illness such as fatty liver disease, more alanine is sometimes required than the body is able to produce.
Alanine helps transport ammonia to the liver. Once alanine makes its way to the liver, it regenerates urea and glucose and participates in enzyme regulation. Studies show that when given to rats with liver damage, alanine inhibits the elevation of the alanine transaminase (ALT) enzymes, which then prevents further liver damage.
Extra intake of alanine has also been shown to help reduce body fat mass in obese subjects.
The amino acid glutamate helps maintain the hepatic urea cycle and inhibit inflammatory responses. It also acts as an antioxidant and helps the liver metabolize and synthesize other amino acids.
Glutamate used in the treatment of rabbits given oxidized mustard oil (a toxin) helped decrease the total levels of triglycerides and cholesterol in their blood serum and helped restore liver function against the influence of oxidized mustard oil, which causes fat accumulation, hepatitis, and liver necrosis.
The acidic amino acid aspartate is needed for synthesizing arginine, asparagine, beta-alanine, pyrimidine, inositol, and purine. Normally aspartate is itself synthesized from oxaloacetate, but supplementing with aspartate has been shown to help suppress and prevent fatty liver disease and atherosclerosis in cholesterol-fed animal models.
Administration of this amino acid may also help prevent liver fibrosis (the step before cirrhosis) and hepatic steatosis, and reduce the level of liver damage incited by pro-inflammatory compounds.
One of the building blocks for RNA and DNA synthesis, glycine plays an important role in calcium absorption and the body's immune response. In animal studies of chronic hepatotoxicity, administered glycine helped protect the liver against fibrosis scarring and helped stop the release of pro-inflammatory cytokines. Studies have also shown that glycine helps improve the liver's regenerative capacity after a liver transplant.
Glycine has also been proven to function as an antioxidant aid by boosting antioxidant enzymes that reduce oxidative stress damage in ethanol-induced liver injury (meaning glycine is specifically appropriate for alcoholic fatty liver disease). Glycine helps increase levels of the antioxidant vitamins C and E and improve the survival rate of subjects by regulating pro- and anti-inflammatory production.
In one study, dietary intake of glycine helped speed the recovery of alcohol-induced liver damage in rats over a period of 4 weeks (even faster than the 6 weeks experts suggest it takes to reverse fatty liver disease completely in humans).
Produced naturally from the process of consuming food, serine helps synthesize lipids, nucleic acids, and proteins in the body. Serine supplementation in cases of NASH have shown that it alters gene expression in a positive way. Likewise, in models of alcoholic fatty liver, serine was found to help reduce triglyceride and lipid accumulation in the liver.
Histidine is an essential amino acid needed for hemoglobin function, protein activity, and possibly regulating copper accumulation in the liver (a genetic dysfunction known as Wilson’s disease). A histidine diet reduced levels of the ALT enzyme in rats, decreased inflammatory cytokines in acetaminophen-damaged mouse models, and may help relieve cases of hyperlipidemia, hyperglycemia, and inflammation in mice with diabetes.
Ingesting histidine also helps with cholesterol metabolism in non-liver areas of the body, which then has the side effect of reducing overall body weight and hepatic levels of cholesterol and triglyceride. It even fights against insulin resistance by improving insulin sensitivity, helpful in cases of type 2 diabetes prevention and treatment.
Necessary for digestive and immune function, threonine is mainly broken down by two enzymes in the liver (threonine dehydratase and threonine dehydrogenase), both of which are significantly decreased in cases of hepatitis. Unused threonine results in a threonine deficiency, which is known to cause mitochondrial uncoupling and reduce energy expenditure in the liver, which restricts growth and healing in the organ.
Methionine prevents fatty buildup in the liver due to its role as a lipotropic agent, meaning it works to break down and metabolize fat. Methionine can help healing in cases of alcoholic and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, and has been identified by scientists as a promising therapeutic agent in liver disorders.
Supplementing with dietary leucine has been found to reduce hepatic steatosis and diabetic nephropathy in animal models, making it an effective nutritional intervention in both conditions. Leucine is one of the three branched-chain amino acids popular among bodybuilders as a muscle-building supplement, but its benefit extends to positively influencing the factors that cause hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as protecting us against metabolic syndrome and aiding patients with advanced chronic liver disease.
Arginine is an essential amino acid that has been proven to prevent liver injury and enhance liver regeneration after hepatectomy, two clear factors that help to ameliorate and reverse fatty liver disease. Arginine supplementation also works to reduce high blood pressure and treat heart disease, leading to overall better health, strength, and longevity.
The Essential Amino Acids
The essential amino acids (EAAs) are the nine amino acids your body cannot make on its own and needs you to provide through dietary or supplemental means. We've already introduced several—histidine, leucine, methionine, threonine—but the rest of the EAAs—isoleucine, lysine, phenylalanine, tryptophan, and valine—make up an all-star liver aid team.
Unfortunately, even after a life-threatening diagnosis, people with alcohol use disorder will continue to drink and remain malnourished, which further worsens their condition. Research shows that a 13-gram dose of essential amino acids taken twice a day can lower fatty liver levels in people with alcohol use disorder even when alcohol consumption remains unchanged. Amino Co's specially formulated blend of essential amino acids targets the unique metabolic issues of fatty liver disease and may help improve symptoms and delay progression.
We've seen these same beneficial effects in people with NAFLD. For instance, a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that taking an essential amino acid supplement daily can help keep fat from accumulating in the liver and offer protection against disease. To find our more about Amino Co's liver-enhancing essential amino acids blends, visit our product page.
2. Milk Thistle
This 2012 study points out explicitly that the long-term administration of silymarin significantly increases the survival time of patients with alcohol-induced cirrhosis of the liver. Milk thistle is anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, and antioxidant—at any stage of liver treatment and recovery, it may help you towards your goal to heal by promoting hepatocyte regeneration.
Another anti-inflammatory natural remedy, turmeric has shown more benefit in scientific studies than dedicated anti-inflammatory drugs. Without fail turmeric (and its active ingredient curcumin) decreases inflammation, including in cases of rheumatoid arthritis, and does so with minimal-to-zero side effects.
This 2019 review of randomized controlled trials, including one trial conducted over an 8-week period, concluded that high dosages of curcumin/turmeric may have a favorable effect on nonalcoholic fatty liver disease.
4. Vitamin E
Vitamin E is found naturally in liver-health foods like nuts, seeds, and green, leafy vegetables, and it has been shown to help liver health and performance when taken as a supplement. Specifically, we're talking about as much as 40 times the recommended amount of vitamin E intake from food.
This 2018 study found that the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-apoptotic (anti-cell death) abilities of vitamin E were both effective and well-tolerated in non-diabetic patients with nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, meaning it's therapeutic even in the most extreme cases of NAFLD that have progressed to dangerous limits.
Studies have consistently shown that omega-3 fatty acids (found naturally in foods like fish and seeds and also available in supplemental fish oil capsules) help reduce the fatty deposits in livers. Specifically, this 2016 meta-analysis shows that omega-3s improve levels of liver fat, gamma-glutamyltransferase (GGT), triglycerides (TG), and high-density lipoproteins (HDL) in NAFLD patients.
Lowering high cholesterol levels and high triglyceride levels and improving the overall ratio between "good" HDL and "bad" LDL cholesterol all contribute to reversing fatty liver disease, along with improving other cardiovascular risk factors like high blood pressure. The study suggests omega-3 application may be a new treatment option for NAFLD, and you can get on the cutting edge of that discovery by supplementing yourself.
Reverse, Recover, Rejoice
Fatty liver is the first step down a long and dangerous road, but when you're only one foot onto that path, you can still pull back. Reversing fatty liver disease before it leads to chronic and irreversible liver damage could literally save your life. It's possible, it can be done in a matter of weeks, and the sooner the better, which is why we've done the research and found out which natural products can help you heal faster without taxing your liver's vital work.
We here at the Amino Co. understand how important it is to maintain liver health, which is why our experts have developed a special amino acid formula targeted toward liver health, purity, and detoxification—every little bit can help you prevent disaster.