If you’ve noticed your pants are more snug lately, find yourself tired long before bedtime and have borderline high cholesterol, a liver bogged down by fat may be to blame. Indeed, the liver plays more than 500 roles in the body. Among its many functions, the organ filters out toxins, supports immunity and digestion, and keeps blood glucose from climbing. You may be familiar with all that but wonder if a fatty liver can cause weight gain. Since the liver plays a key role in burning fat, when it becomes clogged with fat of its own, more fat becomes deposited throughout your body. The good news: realizing that a fatty liver is causing your unexplained weight gain is the first step to healing the problem — and losing weight effortlessly.
What leads to fatty liver?
“Think of the liver as a processing plant that never shuts down,” suggests Cleveland Clinic functional medicine expert Mark Hyman, MD. “When the liver is working well, you feel great. Your metabolism hums, your brain is sharp, your blood sugar and hormones are well-balanced, you sleep well.”
But doing all these jobs can take a toll on the organ. “The liver tends to get tired with age, especially if you’re under stress or carrying excess fat,” explains Christine Gerbstadt, MD, RD, a nutritionist and physician at the National Institutes of Health. “You can picture it as a partially clogged drain: It’s still working, but at a much slower pace.”
And when the liver can’t keep up with its fat-burning functions, fat gets stuck in the organ. The result: Fatty liver, a condition that impacts up to 80% of women over 40, according to nutritionist Ann Louise Gittleman, PhD. But can fatty liver cause weight gain? Experts say the answer is a resounding “yes.”
How fatty liver causes weight gain
“Anytime you develop liver fat, your metabolic rate is going to slow,” explains Taz Bhatia, MD. “Fat impairs the liver’s metabolic and detoxifying functions, which in turn saps physical and mental energy and triggers weight gain.” Plus, fatty liver doubles a fat-storing process known as de novo lipogenesis, according to experts at University of Texas Southwest Medical Center. The result: Findings in the journal Medicine reveal that as fat accumulates in the liver, belly fat increases by 113%. The good news is that clearing out the fat that’s clogging your liver optimizes your metabolism to boost fat-burning by a whopping 400%, say researchers reporting in the journal Cell Metabolism.
The benefits a healthy liver
Purging fat from your liver does more than speed slimming. Once your liver is clear of clogging fat, the organ’s ability to keep a lid on cholesterol is optimized. This reduces atheroscerlosis, a condition that occurs when fatty plaques from in arteries. The result, according to a study in the World Journal of Gastoenterology: Risk of heart disease plummets by 76%. What’s more, findings in the journal Oncotarget suggest stroke risk drops by up to 62%.
Lowering fat levels in your liver also reduces inflammation in the organ, enhancing its sensitivity to the hormone insulin. And research in Diabetes Care found this allows the liver to process glucose more efficiently, lowering the odds of developing diabetes by 55%. (Click through to the find the simple lifestyle tweaks that help reverse prediabetes.)
Since the inflammation produced by fatty liver can cause production of the feel-good brain chemical serotonin to falter, paring down liver fat lifts your spirits, too. In fact, a study in Frontiers in Medicine suggests foiling fatty liver lowers risks of anxiety and blue moods up to 59%. And in another happy side effect, findings in the journal Gut suggest a leaner liver sends energy levels soaring by 85%.
The best ways to slim your liver — and burn fat faster
Reversing fatty liver doesn’t have to involve hard work or deprivation. In fact, these “skinny liver” strategies are as easy as they are enjoyable.
Dig into scrambled eggs for breakfast
Two eggs deliver 58% of the choline you need each day. That’s key, since findings from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill reveal that correcting shortfalls in the nutrient (which impact 92% of women) can reverse fatty liver within 30 days. Also smart: Opting for eggs enriched with omega-3s whenever possible. The friendly fatty acids keep liver-clogging fats called triglycerides in check. And in a study in the journal Clinical Nutrition ESPEN , those who upped their omega-3 intake (folks took 2,000 mg. omega-3s daily) significantly lowered their liver fat levels in 12 weeks. Tip: Consider Eggland’s Best eggs, which contain twice as many omega-3s as ordinary eggs.
Pour yourself another cup of coffee
Love lingering over a second cup of java on lazy mornings? Your liver does too! A study in the Journal of Nutritional Sciences suggests sipping 2 cups of coffee daily boosts the liver’s ability to burn off stored fat by 233%. And in European Journal of Clinical Nutrition study, folks who drank 2 to 3 cups of coffee daily lowered their odds of developing fatty liver by 78%. Experts explain that coffee compounds such as caffeine and chlorogenic acid activate genes that optimize fat breakdown in the organ.
Flavor foods with sesame oil
Enjoying 2 Tbs. of nutty-tasting sesame oil in salad dressings, stir-frys and noodle dishes daily can reverse fatty liver in as little as 12 weeks, according to a studyin the International Journal of Clinical Practice. Credit goes to nutrients such as vitamin E and lecithin, which protect the liver from damage that triggers fat deposition. (Click through to discover more benefits of sesame oil.)
Tuck into a tuna melt or chicken tetrazzini
Just 3 oz. of chicken or about half a can of tuna boasts 12 mg. of a B vitamin known as niacin. And a study in Scientific Reports reveals boosting your daily niacin intake by that amount lowers liver fat by 37%. The reason: Niacin blunts the action of diacylglycerol acyltransferase 2, an amino acid that stimulates fat formation in the organ. (Sardines boast about 7 mg of niacin a serving: Click through to learn how sardines can speed weight loss.)
Give green tea a spicy kick
Compounds in ginger have a powerful ability to enhance activity of enzymes that combat fat buildup, say researchers reporting in Hepatiitis Monthly. In their study, folks who added 2 grams (about one heaping teaspoon) of the spice to their daily diets experienced liver-fat reductions that were 372% greater than people who didn’t enjoy the spice. Ginger makes a tasty addition to smoothies, rice dishes and marinades. (Click through to learn more health benefits of ginger.)
But for an added anti-fat assist, try stirring it into green tea: Catechins in the brew help the body convert fat into fuel. And in a study in the International Journal of Molecular medicine, sipping three cups of catechin-rich green tea daily for 12 weeks spurred significant reductions in liver fat. Plus, participants who drank the brew lost 322% more weight than their counterparts who sipped a “fake” tea-flavored drink.
Take Fido for an afternoon stroll
Go ahead and set aside your to-dos to meander around the block or take your dog on a stroll. Getting 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily triggers the breakdown of fat in the liver. This leaves the organ 33% ‘skinnier’ within 16 weeks, say researchers reporting in the journal Hepatology. And if you prefer to scale back a bit from time to time, permission granted: According to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine, walking slims your liver as effectively as strenuous workouts. Bonus: Folks who walked for 150 minutes weekly lost over 4 pounds and nearly an inch from their waistlines in 6 months. (Click through to discover the walking accessory that helps you burn more fat on every walk.)
Simmer up spaghetti sauce for dinner
Tomatoes are jam-packed with lycopene, a compound that curbs the overactivity of immune cells that can cause the liver to hoard fat. In fact, findings in the journal Antioxidants suggest drinking a cup of tomato juice daily lowers fat levels in the organ by 55% in 10 weeks. Prefer tomato soup or sauce instead? Go ahead and enjoy! Cornell scientists found heat enhances the release of lycopene from tomatoes, making cooked tomato products stellar sources of the compound. (Click through to see the simple trick to peeling tomatoes in seconds.)
Add fresh garlic to your favorite dishes
A compound called allicin found in the tasty herb has a powerful ability to flush fat from your liver. In fact, a study in the journal Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome and Obesity suggests that enjoying a clove of garlic daily delivers an allicin dose that lowers fat in the organ by as much as 61% in 15 weeks. Tip: Let crushed or chopped garlic rest for 10 minutes before adding to recipes. According to Penn State investigators, doing so releases an enzyme in the herb that optimizes its allicin content. (Click through to see how the super herb red sage plant can also nourish your liver.)
Unwind with a glass of red wine
While it seems counterintuitive, sipping one glass of wine (about 4 oz.) daily cuts fatty liver risk by 50%, according to investigators at the University of California San Diego reporting in the journal Hepatology. Experts explain polyphenol compounds in wine protect against the cell damage that triggers fat accumulation in the liver. For best liver-clearing benefits, reach for red wine. Findings in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry suggest the ellagic acid it contains boosts fat-burning in the liver by 40%. (Click through to discover all the ways that a glass of wine with dinner can help your health.)
Sync into sleep with a soothing soak
Snoozing for seven hours each night can reduce your risk of fatty liver by 31%. That’s the word from scientists reporting in the journal Obesity Facts. The reason: Skimping on slumber impairs the liver’s ability to process blood sugar balancing insulin. This causes the organ to store blood sugar as fat. For a soothing way to get more zzz’s, soak your feet in warm water for 20 minutes before bed. Researchers reporting in the Journal of Caring Science found a warm foot bath helped people drift off 66% faster and reduced nighttime awakenings by 33%.
Read on for more ways to safeguard your liver:
- 3 Science-Backed Ways To Prevent the Damaging Effects of Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease
- Fatty Liver Affects 80% of Women Over 40 — Here’s How to Prevent and Reverse It
- Experts Say Essential Fatty Acids Help Burn Fat and Boost Liver Health
This content is not a substitute for professional medical advice or diagnosis. Always consult your physician before pursuing any treatment plan.
This article originally appeared in our print magazine, Woman’s World.