The Gut-Liver Connection: A Deeper Look into Fatty Liver Disease

We hear so much about the gut-brain connection, but have you ever heard about the gut-liver connection? Anatomically, the liver sits in the upper right section of our abdomen, just on top of the intestines. The blood supply to our liver comes mainly from our gastrointestinal tract. All substances absorbed in the intestine travel to the liver first, before accessing the rest of the body.

The integrity of our gut plays a major role in the health of our liver. Everyone has a unique gut microbial composition, meaning there is substantial differences between the bacteria that live in your gut and the bacteria in your neighbours’ gut. Additionally, our gut bacteria are subject to change under different circumstances, leading to what is known as dysbiosis. Dysbiosis has been associated with several pathological conditions; non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is one of them.

NAFLD is when fat accumulates in the cells of the liver (hepatocytes). While NAFLD often has no symptoms, its symptoms can include fatigue, weakness, weight loss, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal pain, itching, yellowing of the skin and eyes and swelling of the legs. NAFLD is initially suspected if blood tests show elevated liver enzymes or decreased platelet count. However, further confirmation can be done through a non-invasive liver scan, called the FibroScan.

Did you know that a person has a fatty liver when fat makes up only 5% of the liver? The FibroScan is a tool that is used to help determine what percentage of fat has accumulated in the liver. For example, a person who has a 10% fatty liver versus >66% would have different treatment recommendations.

Over time, increased fat in the liver can lead to significant damage. On a more positive note, NAFLD is a reversible condition and hepatocytes can return to normal when following the appropriate protocol.

Here are some things to consider if you’ve been diagnosed with NAFLD:

(1) Balance your blood sugar:

We know that when our blood sugar is out of balance it can affect the composition of our microbiome, leading to dysbiosis. Elevated blood sugar has been linked directly to NAFLD. By consuming majority of your diet as vegetables and adding high-quality protein, we can help to balance our blood sugar levels. Eliminating sugar, white flour and alcohol can also help to lower elevated blood sugars.

(2) Consider a probiotic:

It is well known that probiotics act to heal our digestive tract. They can also help return our microbiome to its original state when there is an overgrowth of harmful bacteria. Therefore, supplementing with a human-strain probiotic can help to address the underlying cause of NAFLD.

(3) Supplement with liver-protecting herbs:

One of the most well-researched herbs for NAFLD is milk thistle. Milk thistle has liver-protecting effects by decreasing liver fat production and increasing excretion. It has been shown to significantly reduce elevated liver enzymes in those diagnosed with NAFLD.

You are unique. The information provided here is not a substitute for medical advice. If you are pregnant or have any health conditions, please seek advice prior to making any dietary or lifestyle changes. Consulting with an expert is always your best option to find out what you need.

Erin Enns