Most people truly believe that they eat healthily overall and feel quite happy and justified to have an “occasional” splurge meal. When their food diaries are reviewed, however, often that “occasional” splurge is more frequent than they like to think.
A new study has shown that eating even one high fat meal immediately affects your liver function. Who hasn’t wolfed down a cheeseburger and fries or several slices of pepperoni pizza, thoroughly enjoying it, and feeling safe and secure that their ‘usual’ diet is healthy? Researchers found that the high levels of saturated fat in these meals immediately altered the way the liver functioned, and it took several days to go back to normal.
Professor of Medicine at the University of Helsinki, Finland, Dr Hannele Yki-Jarvinen states that we know that diets high in saturated fat make the liver fatty. Saturated fats such as butter, cheeses, and those found in meat, chicken and pork are the worst things to eat from your livers perspective.
The study conducted showed that “fat loading” in one meal caused the liver to produce 70% more glucose which can elevate blood sugar levels over time, changing insulin sensitivity and ultimately leading to type 2 diabetes.
Fat loading also makes the liver cells work harder, which stresses them and leads to liver disease. The liver plays a very important role in processing the fats and carbohydrates that we eat. In people who regularly eat fatty foods, these fats accumulate and cause a condition known as nonalcoholic fatty liver. This condition is increasingly common in Canada in line with the ballooning obesity epidemic. It can progress to cirrhosis, which is a serious and sometimes life-threatening condition marked by scarring of the liver. It is almost impossible to reverse cirrhosis, but most people can improve the health of their liver by decreasing the amount of saturated fat in their diet.
In Canada, more than 50% of adults are considered to be overweight. A staggering 75% of obese individuals are likely to develop fatty liver disease. Other conditions that accompany and may contribute to fatty liver disease are diabetes, elevated lipids in the blood, insulin resistance and high blood pressure.
Non-alcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) represents the more severe end of the range of fatty liver disease. It means fatty liver with inflammation and is as bad as liver disease in alcoholics. Up to 20% of adults with NASH will develop cirrhosis of the liver and up to 11% may experience liver-related deaths.
Early on people with fatty liver have no symptoms, but as the condition progresses it is common to feel just generally tired and unwell with some vague abdominal discomfort. Ultrasound of the liver will often show fatty liver even in asymptomatic patients who were being investigated for something else.
Even more alarming, is that fatty liver disease is now the most common cause of liver disease in children, largely due to the huge increase in childhood obesity in Canada. At least one in ten Canadian children is estimated to be overweight, a number that seems low when you look around a school playground or mall. Fatty liver disease has been found in children as young as 4 years of age!