Essentially, diagnosis of fatty liver disease follows a flow chart that begins with
blood tests that reveal elevated liver enzymes. After further blood work rules out
viral hepatitis, medical imaging is performed to reveal the presence of fatty deposits
in the liver. Afterwards, an important step is to evaluate the patient's alcohol
consumption. If the patient drinks more than two drinks a day on the average, a diagnosis
of alcoholic fatty liver disease is likely. If not, another cause is more probable
and inquiry into the common non-alcoholic causes of fatty liver disease is undertaken.
Whatever is causing the accumulation of fat deposits in the liver, the course of
treatment normally involves reversing that cause. If the fatty liver condition is
the result of alcohol abuse, the prescription will be to stop drinking. If it is
a result of obesity, controlled and gradual weight loss is the appropriate method.
If it arises as a complication of diabetes, efforts to treat the underlying disorder
should help with the progression of fatty liver disease as well. In either of the
latter two cases, the primary prescription is likely to involve diet, especially
since obesity is a frequent complication of type 2 diabetes.
There is no magic bullet
or "gold standard" treatment for fatty liver disease. Generally speaking, when the
prescription isn't simply to stop drinking, it involves control of diet and exercise
so as to reduce weight or treat diabetes or both. There are medications that are
used to treat type 2 diabetes and others that assist with weight loss that may be
resorted to in more severe cases. Even these medications, however, do not attack
the fatty liver condition directly, but are more aggressive treatments for the underlying
medical condition (obesity or diabetes).
Ayurvedic medicine (traditional Indian medicine) prescribes treatments very similar
to those of Western medicine for fatty liver disease. That is, an ayurvedic doctor
would suggest eliminating alcohol and reducing the intake of fat, while expanding
the consumption of fruits and vegetables. Certain herbs may also be prescribed as
an adjunct to (not a replacement for) the dietary regimen which is the main treatment.
These include hellebore root, embelia, chicory, and ginger.
It could actually be
argued that the standard Western medical treatment for fatty liver disease is in
effect an "alternative" medical approach, since it is conservative, lifestyle-based,
centered on diet and exercise, and holistic. If there were a drug or other medical
treatment that could directly reverse the accumulation of fatty deposits in the liver,
a distinction between standard and alternative treatment might be more visible.
Unlike some more serious liver conditions, fatty liver disease is often reversible.
With appropriate changes to lifestyle factors that cause the disease, the progress
can be arrested and the fatty deposits in the liver re-absorbed by the body, leaving
the liver in a normal condition. The earlier the disease is detected, the cause identified,
and treatment begun, the more likely this desirable outcome will be.
Identifying The Cause
The first step in treating fatty liver disease is to identify what is causing the
condition. Fatty liver disease is divided (as is often the case with liver diseases)
into two categories, alcoholic and non-alcoholic. Alcoholic fatty liver disease,
as the name suggests, is primarily caused by alcohol abuse. This is the single most
common cause of fatty liver disease as well as of liver fibrosis and of cirrhosis
of the liver; however, the majority of cases of fatty liver disease are caused by
something other than alcohol abuse.