Rates of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) – excessive deposits of liver fat in those with no history of alcohol abuse – are soaring in the United States, with some experts placing the incidence at a stunning one in three adults. Although many cases of NAFLD are mild, the disease can occasionally progress to severe and even life-threatening consequences, including liver cancer.
Now, exciting new research published in the peer-reviewed journal Molecular Metabolism suggests that a simple intervention – regular exercise – can significantly improve the condition and even play a role in preventing it. To learn more about the effects of this surprising natural strategy on NAFLD, read on.
Skyrocketing Rates of Obesity Are Triggering a National Epidemic of NAFLD
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that a shocking 66 percent of American adults are currently either overweight or obese, which goes a long way towards explaining the increasing rates of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. As the name implies, the primary cause is not excessive alcohol – but consumption of too many toxic foods and a lack of physical activity.
The excessive intake of high fructose corn syrup plus many other processed foods lead to fat deposits in the liver, which over time causes dysfunction of the mitochondria in liver cells. Experts estimate that in 20 to 30 percent of the cases, NAFLD progresses to nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (or NASH), a more serious condition that can sometimes lead to liver fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis of the liver, liver failure, liver cancer and death.
Study: Regular Exercise Mitigates NAFLD at the Molecular Level
According to a new study conducted by scientists at Helmholtz Munich and Tubingen University Hospital, exercise causes molecular adaptations of mitochondria in the liver that can prevent the development of fatty liver disease. Over the course of the six-week study, mice were fed a high-calorie diet – and some received “treadmill training,” meaning that they had regular exercise.
The team found that regular physical activity regulates the breakdown of glucose in the liver and improves the function of the mitochondria, also known as the “power stations” of the cell. The “exercised” mice also displayed improvements in glucose control. In addition, regular physical activity improved the respiratory capacity of the muscles, thereby relieving stress on the liver.
Although the study was conducted on animals, it mirrors the research results on humans. “The results fit in very well with the approaches of ongoing clinical studies,” reported study leader Dr. Cora Weigert.
Additional Studies Support the Ability of Regular Exercise to Improve Liver Health
In a review published in 2018 in Gene Expression, the Journal of Liver Research, the authors summarized the evidence for the effects of regular physical exercise on NAFLD and NASH. They noted that several clinical trials have shown that both aerobic and resistance exercise reduce liver fat by several different pathways. These include improving insulin resistance – which reduces the excess delivery of fats and glucose to the liver – increasing fatty acid oxidation (in other words, fat burning) decreasing fatty acid synthesis and preventing mitochondrial and liver damage.
In light of all this, it’s not at all surprising that the American Gastroenterological Association, the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases and the American College of Gastroenterology all recommend physical exercise for NAFLD!
What Type of Exercise Is Best for NAFLD?
Studies suggest that a wide variety of exercise styles, intensities and duration can benefit NAFLD. The authors of the 2018 review cited a study of overweight and obese NAFLD patients that evaluated the effects of three different exercise regimes: low intensity/high volume, high-intensity/low volume and low intensity/low volume. Each was found to cause significant reductions in liver fat.
In another study, NASH patients performed a moderate exercise program consisting of 20- to 60-minute sessions four to seven days a week. The program, which included both resistance and aerobic training, caused a significant improvement in NASH.
Resistance training includes weight lifting, squats, lunges, and pushups. You can get aerobic exercise through jogging, cycling, dancing, swimming, and even brisk walking. However, researchers in several studies stressed that the most important factor was that the exercise routine fit the individual’s ability and preferences.
By the way, the general recommendation of the National Institutes of Health is for adults to get 30 minutes of exercise five days a week. But, do check first with your integrative doctor before embarking on an exercise regimen to address NAFLD. While there is currently no consensus on which type of exercise is “best” for NAFLD, almost any kind of regular physical activity can be beneficial.
By showing exactly how regular exercise positively impacts fatty liver disease, the new study helps to showcase the exciting potential of this simple, drug-free, non-toxic natural intervention. If needed, get some coaching advice and get started today.