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Liver 101

The liver is located in abdomen under the rib cage on the right side and is the largest solid organ in the human body. You cannot live without a liver.

The liver performs over 500 vital functions including eliminating toxins, processing food into energy and nutrients, assisting in the immune system and aiding in blood clotting.

The liver can become damaged in a variety of ways. Most common are viral hepatitis (types A, B and C); autoimmune hepatitis; primary biliary cholangitis; primary sclerosis cholangitis; inherited conditions, including Wilson Disease; alcoholic fatty liver; and non-alcoholic fatty liver (NAFLD). This website, and our non-profit, focuses on NAFLD and resulting complications.

The progression of NAFLD is graphically displayed in the Fatty Liver Roadmap on this site. Here is a brief definition of each progression:

NAFLD – The liver contains excess fat, defined as more than 5-10% of the liver’s weight

NASH – The liver swells from the excess fat and becomes inflamed, resulting in cell damage

Cirrhosis- Healthy liver cells are replaced by scar tissue, impairing the liver’s ability to function.

There are currently no medications for NAFLD or NASH. The liver is a very forgiving organ and damage can often be reversed if caught early and lifestyle changes are made. As liver disease progresses it can become more difficult to reverse. The early stages of NASH can be reversed but once it advances to decompensated cirrhosis reversal is rare.

Actions that can be taken include:

  • Control your weight, exercise and follow a healthy diet
  • Don’t smoke, limit alcohol and don’t overmedicate
  • Avoid opioids and other drugs
  • Avoid touching or breathing toxins such as pesticides

Diet information is available elsewhere under the “Education” section of this website. The simplest advice is to follow a Mediterranean diet. The Fatty Liver Foundation’s website also provides good advice.

NASH sometimes progresses to cirrhosis. There are various stages of cirrhosis, summarized below. Compensated cirrhosis means the liver is still functioning relatively well. Decompensated cirrhosis indicates that the liver is losing the ability to function and symptoms of a damaged liver begin to occur.

Stages of Cirrhosis:

CompensatedDecompensated
Stage 1Stage 2Stage 3Stage 4
No VaricesVaricesVarices Bleeding
No AscitesNo AscitesAscitesAscites

 

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