Fatty Liver Disease

Fatty Liver Disease occurs when fat cells build up in your liver. This is concerning – because your liver performs over 500 functions that are essential for your health. A person needs a functioning liver to survive, and fat cells can cause inflammation and scarring that eventually lead to liver failure.

Your liver is your largest internal organ, and it processes waste materials from the body. It is about the size of a football and is located on top of the stomach, where it plays a key role in metabolic processes by filtering toxins out of your blood. Here are some of its key functions:

  • Filtering out waste products in the form of bile
  • Creating cholesterol
  • Creates and stores extra glucose
  • Reducing the harmful effects of toxins and removing them from the bloodstream
  • Producing bile, which helps to break down fats and remove waste
Fatty Liver Disease

You can think of your liver as being the manager of your body’s metabolic processes. It will direct what nutrients should be processed and stored, which ones should return to the body or be eliminated, and determine what vitamins and minerals the body needs.

What is Fatty Liver Disease?

1 in 3 Australians now have fatty liver. While some fat is normal, fatty liver occurs when the proportion of fat takes up 10% of the total contents of the liver.

Fatty liver may initially cause no symptoms and no obvious damage. However, the fat can lead to an advanced stage called steatohepatitis, which is an inflammation of the liver. This inflammation can cause swelling and then scarring, which is referred to as cirrhosis. This scarring replaces healthy tissue which will impair the liver’s ability to function properly and can lead to liver failure.


Fatty liver disease does not cause immediate symptoms in most people, but symptoms may develop once the disease has progressed to the point that the liver has a lot of scarring (cirrhosis).

These are some of the symptoms that may develop later in the disease’s progression:

  • A sense of fullness
  • Pain or discomfort in the abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Fatigue
  • Swelling
  • Jaundice, which causes yellowing of the skin and eyes
  • Confusion

Causes and Risk Factors

Fatty-Liver-Disease-CausesThe causes of fatty liver disease are often linked to lifestyle, and it is a frequent complaint in western countries with diets high in saturated fats. Fatty liver disease can be caused by:

  • Eating too much food
  • Excess weight
  • Drinking alcohol excessively (this is a specific type of fatty liver disease, called alcoholic fatty liver disease)
  • A diet high in saturated fats
  • High blood sugar
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Elevated cholesterol
  • Elevated triglycerides
  • A disease that may affect liver function, such as PCOS or hepatitis.
  • Some pharmaceutical medicine or chemotherapy
  • Rapid weight loss or malnutrition
  • Metabolic syndrome

If you are concerned that you might be at a higher risk for fatty liver disease, you should discuss it with your doctor as soon as possible. Because the symptoms of fatty liver disease are often not immediately obvious, they might not be identified until tests are run for a different cause or your doctor checks for fatty liver disease.


Fatty-Liver-Disease-treatmentThere is no specific cure or medicine for fatty liver disease, and doctors often focus on prevention and addressing lifestyle factors to improve the condition if possible.

Sometimes medications for cholesterol or triglycerides (fat) in the blood may be used, but most often the lifestyle factors that are changed include:

  • Weight loss
  • Exercise
  • A healthy diet low in saturated fat
  • Address any diabetes or insulin resistance present
  • Avoid anything that will stress the liver, such as drinking alcohol or taking potentially dangerous herbal remedies
  • Lowering cholesterol
  • Quitting smoking or vaping

Doctors may refer you to allied health specialists such as a dietician, exercise physiologist, or addiction counsellor as part of a multidisciplinary treatment plan.

Fatty liver diet

Fatty liver is caused by a complex interplay between your genetics, hormones and your dietary intake. Improving your diet is one of the key ways to treat non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

That may involve:

  • Eating more vegetables
    • These are low in calories but very high in nutrients.
    • Only 7% of Australians are eating enough fruits and vegetables each day, meaning you should probably increase your intake.
  • Reducing your intake of red meat and processed meats
  • Satisfying your cravings but reducing your sugar intake
    • Try tropical fruit salads, oranges dipped in melted dark chocolate or yogurt drizzled with honey
  • Reducing your alcohol intake to give your liver a break – drinking puts additional stress on your liver
    • Space alcoholic drinks with water
    • Stock the fridge with some tasty non-alcoholic drinks
    • Try your hand at making some delicious mocktails.
  • Making some high-fibre food swaps so you stay full on fewer calories
    • 2 pieces of real fruit instead of a glass of juice
    • A jacket potato instead of hot chips
    • Air-popped popcorn instead of potato chips.

Are there foods to avoid with fatty liver? Yes. Try to cut down on

  • Saturated fats like butter, lard, ghee, coconut oil, full-fat dairy and deep-fried foods
  • Sugars – look for no-added sugar drinks, try your tea or coffee without sugar and save cakes and biscuits for special occasions.

Though it’s not always easy to make lifestyle changes, you may find that better nourishment improves your mood, memory and waistline as well as your liver.

How do you Test for Fatty Liver?

Fatty-Liver-Disease-testingIf your doctor notices signs of a fatty liver or would like to assess you for it, they may ask for blood tests that assess your liver function. They can also opt for a CT scan, MRI or biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. To do a biopsy, the doctor will remove a small amount of tissue from the liver and examine it at a microscopic level to check for an abundance of fat cells.

At Moonee Valley Specialist Centre we offer a non-invasive and comprehensive liver scan. It uses an innovative device allied to the FibroScan 502 Touch Device, which can inspect your liver for signs of scarring or fatty deposits. It is similar to an ultrasound and can measure the stiffness of your liver, but it generates 2 scores rather than an image.

Fibroscan inspects your whole liver for signs of fatty deposits or scarring (cirrhosis) to measure the stiffness of your liver (fibrosis). It picks up fat, which eventually leads to cirrhosis, much earlier than a liver ultrasound usually does (though we usually recommend an ultrasound scan too).

After you do the test, you will receive two scores. These are the CAP score, which measures the amount of fat in your kidney, and the second is the fibrosis score, which measures how stiff your liver is – this indicates the amount of scarring that might be present. These scores allow your doctor an insight into the condition of your liver, which supports them to prepare the best plan of action for treatment.

These liver scans do not require a referral from your doctor and take just 10 minutes. If you would like to learn more about this scan, call us on (03) 9372 0372 and we will be happy to answer your questions.

Learn more about this liver scan here.

MVSC Church

Accessing a liver scan at Moonee Valley Specialist Centre

These liver scans do not require a referral from your doctor and take just 10 minutes. If you would like to learn more about this scan, call us on (03) 9372 0372 and we will be happy to answer your questions. 

Learn more about this liver scan here.  

*All information is general in nature and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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