Stages of Liver Damage

Fatty Liver: The Ultimate Wake-Up Call

A lot has changed for me over the past two years. I moved across the country. Switched jobs. Started a job that required 2 1/2 hours each day of car commuting. Moved again. But after all that, I finally felt like I’m in a place where I could fully focus on myself – and my health – once again.

I’m not sure if it was miraculous timing or horrific timing, but my body seemed to agree that something needed to change. Almost as soon as I started taking a hard look at my diet and upping my exercise again in early September, my body freaked out. Hard. I ended up with severe diarrhea and nausea for five days straight. I couldn’t keep anything down. I thought I had food poisoning or some sort of stomach virus. I ate lightly, reduced my exercise, and carried on about my life.

Less than a week later, I woke up in the middle of the night with severe stabbing pain in my upper right stomach. It felt like a weevil was trying to viciously claw its way through my internal organs and tap dance on my every last nerve. I was able to get in to see my doctor that same day; after preaching about diet and exercise for 20 minutes, she sent me for a CT scan. The CT scan results showed gallstones but no immediate blockages, so I was more concerned with the diagnosis the doc said HADN’T cause my pain: fatty liver. My liver enzymes were twice as high as normal, confirming early-stage fatty liver.

What is fatty liver? It’s just like it sounds – a build up of fat in your liver. Doctors (and the ever-omnipotent internet blogger community) agree that it’s possible to heal a fatty liver by eating healthy and eliminating (or drastically reducing) alcohol intake.

My pain and nausea went away in about two days. Thanks to hydrocodone, I was able to tolerate those two days of viciousness. After I was feeling a bit better, I started to research fatty liver. What I found scared the sh*% out of me. Although many people with fatty liver never progress to later stages of liver disease, including scarring, cirrhosis and even liver cancer, it can take years to reverse changes. I was determined to take control and reverse the disease.

Stages of Liver Damage

This diagram shows the progression of fatty liver. Luckily, mine was caught early enough to reverse the damage fairly quickly!

To reduce my fatty liver, I took a number of important steps:

  1. I cut out all processed carbs, including anything with refined flour or sugar.
  2. I cut out ALL alcohol. Although fatty liver can be caused by both alcohol and diet, and I was pretty sure mine was caused by diet, I didn’t want to take any chances with inflammation. I did indulge in one to two glasses of wine two or three times a week before I got sick, but it was an easy thing to cut out to foster health and cut calories.
  3. I started eating only lean protein, fruits, vegetables, and dairy products (very sparingly).
  4. I started a strict supplement program of milk thistle extract, vitamin E, probiotics, and glucosamine (for my joints).
  5. I increased my regular daily activity instead of focusing on strenuous workouts like I did during past weight loss efforts. Having just moved to a new city and an apartment within a mile of the downtown farmers’ market and a supermarket, I tried to walk whenever and wherever possible. I also started going on quick, 15-20 minute lunch walks during the workday.

Although my intake of fats were slightly higher than is normally recommended, I was feeling great and losing weight – more than 25 pounds in one month!

It all came crashing to a sudden end, though, when I ended up back in the hospital with another gallbladder attack on September 20. The excess cholesterol in 2 1/2 ounces of shrimp sent me into a seething pain so intense I couldn’t walk or talk. I could barely breathe, and was hyperventilating and vomiting (not a good combination) when they admitted me into the emergency room.

Because the ER doc couldn’t get a complete history on someone who couldn’t speak, he ran a gamut of tests – including liver function tests and an abdominal ultrasound. When the IV drugs finally kicked in enough for me to have a conversation, I spoke with the doctor about my test results. He mentioned that all was normal, including the liver function tests.

Although the dilaudid was strong enough that I wasn’t sure if I was still on planet earth, my jaw dropped. I asked if there was any indication of fatty liver on the ultrasound, and he said no – none whatsoever!

In just over a month, I effectively HEALED my fatty liver. 

Seeing what just one month of clean eating can do for my liver, there’s no way I’m going back to eating anything that isn’t high-quality fuel for my body.

Ending up with two gallbladder attacks in less than a month, especially considering one was likely induced by just a small amount of shellfish, means that I will need to eventually have my gallbladder removed. My insurance doesn’t want to keep paying for emergency room visits, and I’d prefer to avoid the eyeball-piercing pain, so I’m fully onboard with this plan.

The kind ER doc scheduled an appointment with a surgeon tomorrow to discuss recommendations. While I am nervous about potential side effects and the possibility of surgery, I can’t help but be more excited with the changes I’ve been able to bring about in my own body just by taking control of my diet.

I’ll update soon on the outcome of my surgeon appointment. In the meantime, feel free to ask me any questions about my diet or how I reversed my fatty liver!

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2 comments

  1. Madeline Johnson · December 5, 2015

    Hello and congratulations for changing your diagnosis with your diet. This is amazing. I suffered from my first gallstone attack last night in the ER and it is horrendous. I never want to go through that again so I am going to have my gallbladder removed. I had been eating a pretty healthy diet but I think Thanksgiving dinner through me for a loop and set things in motion leading to this attack. I didn’t think to ask the ER for my tests but I am going to go back to the hospital and get my records and find out if they have my liver enzymes to see if I have fatty liver. I didn’t even know about this. Thank you for opening up my mind to what I have to be on the look out for and please share any foods or remedies that have helped you. Thank you again.

    • PBJTime · December 16, 2015

      I am SO sorry to hear that! I know how horrible that pain is. My mom used to have problems with the turkey skin and gravy on Thanksgiving. There haven’t been any particular foods or remedies that have helped, other than eating a super high-veggie diet, with very few starchy vegetables (a few sweet potatoes, small amounts of squash) and very lean protein (egg whites, cod, and now finally some chicken breast). I’ve added some olive oil (1 to 1 1/2 tsp at a time), just to help with vitamin absorption (my Vitamin D was low on my last labs, but that’s actually very common). How are you feeling 10 days AFTER your attack? Any improvement?

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