NAFLD has changed my life. It has impacted me and my relationship with food, forever. I hope you’ll indulge me a bit, while I explain. My disappearing act for most of the winter and early spring wasn’t because I don’t love you anymore. Promise! I have been physically ill and emotionally depressed for months, now; and up until about five weeks ago, we simply couldn’t figure out what was happening to me. Getting out of bed took all the energy I could muster and the motivation to turn on the computer, much less, write, simply wasn’t there.
I don’t get sick. I don’t do doctors. The last time I had a check-up, I was pregnant with my almost sixteen-year-old daughter. I’ve been plugging along pretty well, except for having my gall bladder out in 2005.
Then, almost three years ago, I decided to see a doctor for the strange brown splotches developing on my forearms. I was told it was nothing to worry about. About a year later as they continued to spread I saw a different doctor. “Not sure what it is, but it isn’t cancer. Don’t worry about it.” Five weeks ago, my current doctor also had no idea what they were.
So, What is NAFLD?
So many people don’t have symptoms, or don’t recognize that all their little, individual symptoms are part of a much bigger picture. After lots of tests, lab work and an ultrasound, my doctor, however, did have a diagnosis for what was happening to me. She determined from the bloodwork and ultrasound that I have NAFLD. What she didn’t know, or at least didn’t share with me is that the last several years of unexplained, seemingly unrelated symptoms… the overall “not well” feeling, sleeplessness, seeming loss of memory, reflux and heartburn, abdominal pain, unbearably itchy skin, complete physical exhaustion that kept me in bed a good portion of the time, the depression, soaring blood pressure and unbelievable weight gain over a short period of time, always being hot (like super-nova at my core hot), and gall bladder problems (Did you catch that?)…they’re all related… it all has a cause. I started seeing it all come together on liverdoctor.com.
NAFLD, Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease. Whaaaaat? How does a one-drink-every-two-or-three-years-gal, like me, end up with liver disease / cirrhosis? Apparently, I’m in good company. It’s estimated that 1 in 4 Americans have NAFLD and many, many of those are walking around undiagnosed. It didn’t seem logical that all those random symptoms were, corporately, an indicator of something going very, very wrong.
The doctor did lab work to check my thyroid, blood sugar, celiac disease and a myriad of other things. Five test tubes of blood, people! Find something! My doctor’s nurse called with my lab results. None of the things they were looking for were the issue, but they had found something they weren’t expecting….elevated liver enzymes, both AST and ALT. They indicated I needed more lab tests and an ultrasound. This time the blood work was to check for hepatitis. The ultrasound was to check my organs…pretty much all of them. I was in a Googling frenzy, now. Even though she hadn’t said a thing about it, yet, everything I searched kept coming back NAFLD. Well, that wasn’t me. New search. Blah. Blah. Blah.
My doctor’s nurse called, the next week, to let me know the diagnosis. The doctor had given her a couple sentences worth of instructions to pass on to me. “You have NAFLD and it has no cure. Cut out all sugars and grains, potatoes, corn and peas from your diet. Lose weight.” The. End.
At first I was mad and scared and frustrated. My doctor had told the truth. There is no cure. Not one that can be sold to me by a pharmaceutical company, anyway. What I was angry and upset about was all she DIDN’T tell me. In all honesty, I threw myself a 24 hour pity-party. That was the limit I set for myself, so I wallowed in every single minute of the allotted time. Having already Googled myself into a frenzied, tearful mess, the previous couple of days, I DID already know quite a bit about NAFLD. I had dismissed it out of hand, expecting that hepatitis was going to be the diagnosis, because that was what the doctor was expecting; and yet, somehow I knew, even before they called, that wasn’t right. Too many of the puzzle pieces had started fitting together.
Through something called a “medical portal” I was able to get access to my lab reports and ultrasound results, online. I learned that I have a 3 centimeter area of scarring on my liver. My liver should be 15 centimeters, but is just shy of 21 centimeters. Extremely enlarged. I’m not sure why those things were never explained to me, but I’m glad for the opportunity to access my information. Be sure you ask lots of questions and request to see lab reports and test results.
In the end, I realized we have unrealistic expectations of doctors most of the time, especially when it comes to general practitioners, typical family doctors. They have to know a little bit about EVERYTHING. Seriously, how can they do that? We expect them to be experts in every field and about all possible conditions. It’s simply not realistic. What I do think she should have explained is just how serious NAFLD is. Not everyone who is told to change their diet will take it seriously. If it doesn’t require drugs or surgery or treatment of some kind, it can’t be that bad, right? Wrong.
Did you know the liver is the only organ that can regenerate? Take that NAFLD!
I needed a doctor that knew everything about the liver. But since I hadn’t received any kind of referral and I didn’t have a supply of cash stashed away to seek one out on my own, I turned to the Internet. I pored over every website, medical page and blog post that had info on NAFLD and the list of everything I SHOULD have been told kept getting longer and longer. The most helpful site I discovered was liverdoctor.com. That’s where my actual knowledge of the disease, what causes it, and how to begin making the necessary lifestyle changes came into focus. It’s also where I discovered HOPE..news I should have been told, before. I can heal and regenerate my liver WITH FOOD. I can stop NAFLD in it’s tracks, prevent it from spreading any further and after one to two years, I may even achieve regeneration and repair of my liver! (Update: I learned, today, that the small damaged area of my liver that has already been scarred by cirrhosis, may possibly heal itself, too. Because the damage was caught early and because my lifestyle changes are already having a dramatic effect on my health and weight, there is a good chance my liver can FULLY regenerate — all of it! Woot!God is so good!!!)
I also learned that by the time your liver enzymes are elevated, your liver has already suffered devastating damage. The damage is what causes the enzymes to be higher than they’re supposed to be. So, the blood test can’t be the first time we know…not if the goal is to prevent liver damage in the first place. It turns out that gall bladder issues and having your gall bladder out are big time, first indicators that something is wrong with your liver. Remember 2005? Twelve years ago, someone should have clued me in that there was potentially a problem with my liver and changes needed to be made, immediately.
But, the real culprit here, was me. My NAFLD, though unintended, is self-inflicted. Multiple sodas in a day, (I knew the dangers of the ones with artificial sweeteners, so I drank the full sugar sodas. Oy!), breads (my beloved friend, lol) made from grain so modified it no longer resembles the wheat God created for our health and consumption, pastas made from that same grain, sweets (I’m not a huge sweets eater, but it all contributes.), potatoes (a life staple in my past diet), peas and corn — all the foods that quickly break down to simple sugars when we eat them. But, it’s not just obvious foods. Take a look at a can of chicken broth, your favorite salsa, mac and cheese or fat-free anything — things that certainly have no need for sugar. You will see the words sugar, sucrose, fructose, high fructose corn syrup and many other of those hidden sugar identifiers. It’s in EVERYTHING. My heart sunk when I started reading the labels of the food in our pantry and on the shelves at the grocery store.
In my mind, I was buying the most cost effective and healthy, whole grain food we could afford for our family. Pasta, potatoes and breads seemed to be the least expensive and best money-saving options for our budget. They were cheap in the short-term, but have been costly over the long-term. Plus, I am discovering that as I move to buying fresh, whole fruits and vegetables, tons of organic greens, grass-fed and pastured meats and eggs, healthy fats, and nuts we eat LESS. We actually get full — we’re satisfied without the cravings and snack impulses. It’s so strange! The food tastes fantastic, we eat less and we are more satisfied. So, what we save not buying food that harms us can go into food that satisfies and heals us. Other than the initial purging and restocking of my pantry, which was a pricey upfront expense, our weekly grocery budget hasn’t really changed. Because we live in a small town, I order a lot of staples online, but even our local Walmart is stocking more and more organic options in our produce department.
Now, that I know how to stop and reverse my NAFLD and rejuvenate my liver, with food, I’m collecting tons of resources. Plus, I spend hours poring over recipes. As someone who has always been known for her cooking, and who loves food and feeding others, it’s been a real blow, to have to unlearn what I normally do and start from scratch, learning to cook all over, again. No grain (including rice), no flours, sugar, honey, corn syrup, sweeteners of any kind. There goes baking, right? No white potatoes, corn or peas. No gravy. For days, all I saw was what I COULDN’T have. Basically, I eat leafy greens and vegetables, meat, healthy fats like avocado oil and coconut oil, nuts (except peanuts which are legumes) and a little fruit. How can I turn ALL THAT into beautiful, appetizing dishes that people enjoy eating and get excited about learning to cook? How will I go without baking cakes, cookies, and breads? Oh the bread! I thought I would miss it more, but it really IS getting easier. Plus, I m figuring out some sugar-free, low-carb alternatives.
NAFLD is not winning this battle. You won’t believe the beautiful and delicious food I’m learning to create! And I’m going to be sharing it all with you, my friend. Whether you have NAFLD, today, or not, I hope you’re starting to understand that it can be prevented by being smarter than I was. Be done with soda, TODAY. Sugar and alternative sweeteners are killing our livers. Soda (regular or diet), processed foods and sweets have increased the sugar intake of average Americans, exponentially. In the early 1800’s, every year, we consumed about 5 lbs of sugar per person. Today, that number is 150-170 lbs per person. (Picture 30 or 35 five-pound bags of sugar stacked on your counter!) We’re consuming sugar in places we have no idea it’s hiding. Sugar, in all it’s forms, and grains (flour, cereal, bread, crackers, tortillas and wraps), that quickly break down to simple sugars after we eat them, deplete our immune systems and cause the body to store all that excess sugar as fat. I was committing slow suicide with the food I chose to put in my body every day. Are you? I want to show you a new and scrumptious way to love what you eat and get healthier and healthier.
Busy-at-Home is going to be about all the same old things — Simplifying Food, Family, DIY and Home & Garden. You’ll just be noticing a new direction in the delicious recipes I’m developing. You’re gonna love it!
Thanks for indulging this SUPER LONG-WINDED post. I wanted to start with a clean slate and let you know exactly what to expect moving forward. One HAPPY side effect of this way of eating is that I have lost 24 lbs over the last five weeks. I still have a long way to go. Even though it’s not a “diet”, it’s encouraging to know that this new lifestyle is making positive changes and already beginning to heal my body. I’m excited to continue sharing the journey with you. If even one of you, reads my story, and says, ” Wow! I have a lot of those same symptoms. Let’s check into it.” and is spared having cirrhosis or other liver damage/ diseases, I will consider it a blessing and time well spent.
Happy Wednesday, Friend! I hope your week is full of blessings!