At the beginning of the summer (about 3 months ago), I was beginning to feel the effects of my liver being enlarged again. It wasn't as bad as when I ended up in the ER the end of June 2012, but I could feel it was trying to head in that direction. After the thorough ER ultrasound in 2012 uncovered that my liver was enlarged, I put two and two together and realized that my liver had been overtaxed from decades of chronic stress from the endometriosis. My doctor and I had already determined that the ripple effect of the endometriosis had caused damage to how each gland in my endocrine system talks to one another and my body. This most likely caused my fibromyalgia. So it made perfect sense that my liver had also been a victim. My enlarged liver was an indication that I had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).
What is NAFLD?
One of the main functions of the liver is to metabolize fats in the food you eat. When there is a build up of extra fat in liver cells that is not caused by the consumption of alcohol, you end up with NAFLD. It's normal for the liver to contain fat cells. The liver is the second largest organ in the body weighing about 3 pounds, is shaped like a football and resides under the rib cage on the right side of your body. It is normal for 5-10% percent of the liver's total weight to be fat cells. But more than that and your liver is no longer in the healthy range anymore.
What causes NAFLD?
According to WebMD.com, although the cause of the disease is unclear, there are several factors that can cause the liver to fall victim to NAFLD (I've underlined the ones that probably led to mine):
- Viral hepatitis
- Autoimmune or inherited liver disease
- Rapid weight loss
- Gastric bypass surgery (rapid weight loss combined with diet)
- Hepatitis C
- An overload of iron
- Recent studies show an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine and other changes in the intestine may be associated with NAFLD
NAFLD doesn't have to be permanent
The good news is that the liver is one of the most resilient organs in the body. It can regenerate itself as long as there is healthy tissue to regenerate. Even though my enlarged liver was definite evidence that I had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), I could reverse it as long as the situation didn't persist long enough for the liver to begin to form scar tissue. Once scar tissue replaces the damaged tissue throughout an enlarged liver, the cirrhosis stage has begun and the liver can't regenerate from scar issue. Cirrhosis can't be reversed. But NAFLD can. So my goal since June 2012 has been to heal my liver.
Following my gut (pardon the pun)
With the onset of symptoms that my liver was unhappy again after a year of babying it, I felt the urge to do some online research about possible vitamin, mineral or nutritional supplements that could help me in trying to increase the health of my liver and get it back on track to healing.
As I often do, I turned to Google first and typed in "vitamins to help non alcoholic fatty liver disease".
The third hit on the Google search results led me to ClinicalTrials.gov (a service of the U.S. National Institutes of Health) and a current study being performed by the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center entitled "Treatment for Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver With Different Doses of Vitamin E". The study started in February 2013 and appeared to still be actively recruiting. I wasn't all that excited about being a participant in a clinical study, but I continued to read the outline of the study and found that it documented exactly what each control group would be taking.
I decided to follow my gut instinct. Instead of officially participating in the study, I would put myself on the same dose of Vitamin E as the control group with the highest dose of 800 IU/daily. I determined that if I had an adverse reaction, then I would scale back to the next highest dose of 400 IU/daily. And if necessary scale back to the lowest dose of 200 IU/daily.
I found Vitamin E soft gel caps (pictured above) that were 400 IU each. I started taking two a day for a total of 800 IU a day. I started taking them every morning with the rest of my vitamins and meds.
It only took a couple of weeks for me to notice changes. The swelling in the region of my liver began to reduce about that time. The pressure on my stomach began to reduce and the burping on an empty stomach (the tell-tale sign my liver was overstepping its boundaries into my stomach's territory) began to subside.
As the weeks passed, my discomfort was less and less. I knew I had seen success when it dawned on me that I hadn't thought about my liver in a while, because it wasn't causing me discomfort. Around the month and half mark, I noticed my energy levels coming back. I noticed I had more stamina. I also noticed that my fibromyalgia flare-ups were happening less frequently. I continued to manage my stress with conscious lifestyle choices to see if the trend continued and it did.
Of course, I continued to be extra vigilant about what I ate (as I had been since my ER visit in June 2012). I knew that for me appropriate nutritional choices were a key component to the overall equation. I knew just because I was taking the Vitamin E didn't mean I could go back to eating trigger foods like ice cream, soft cheeses and fried foods. And I still had to continue to eat my healthy foods: walnuts, brazil nuts, pistachios, organic whole wheat pastas and breads, dark leafy greens, foods prepared in a Mediterranean style with olive oil, tomato sauces instead of cream sauces, organic fruits and veggies, and eating lean meats sparingly. And a small helping of frozen yogurt every day.
The major factor I continually work at every day is to actually eat. I must give my body sustenance regularly. I can't forget meals like I am prone to do. I have to nourish my body despite my brain's propensity toward thinking "the less I eat, the better". If I don't, than I am malnourished. And my liver will suffer.
To this date, I am still taking 800 IU of Vitamin E every day. I don't anticipate that I will ever stop, given the positive results I've experienced. My liver is happy. The rest of my body is getting happier because my liver can do its job again. And I have Vitamin E to thank for it.