A diagnosis of fatty liver can be scary, but gastroenterologists say that with dietary changes and regular exercise, progression of liver damage can be prevented.

Fatty liver, one of the causes of liver cancer, occurs due to metabolic problems such as diabetes, obesity or viral infections such as Hepatitis B and C.

Alcoholism can also lead to fatty livers, but there are also cases of teetotallers who have been diagnosed with the condition.

“There are cases of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease as well. An ultrasound scan can detect the condition, and patients should undergo a liver function test. If the test indicates normal liver function, there is nothing to worry about. Lifestyle modifications can take care of the rest,” said K.R. Palaniswamy, director of World Gastroenterology Organisation Foundation.

One of the first things to rectify is the intake of carbohydrates in the form of rice.

“We tend to have large portions of rice. This should be reduced. More fruits and vegetables should be made part of the diet. Non-vegetarians should eat more fish and avoid red meat. Also, frequent small meals are better than a few big ones,” he said.

Regular exercise too, is a must. “Aerobic exercises help mobilise the fat in the liver. Jogging for 20 minutes per day will help,” said K. Raghuram, retired professor of gastroenterology, Madras Medical College.

The alcohol connection

When it comes to liver damage, alcohol is one of the major contributors.

“The actual safe limit for alcohol consumption is minute – 20 grams per day. Anything more can destroy the liver. People think a nightcap of wine will protect the heart, but excess consumption can harm the liver. Instead, coloured vegetables such as tomatoes, beetroots and carrots are better for their antioxidant properties,” said L. Thayumanavan of Madurai Medical College.

The three gastroenterologists were part of a panel fielding questions from the public on various aspects concerning the liver, at an interaction to mark World Digestive Health Day, which fell on Sunday.

The programme aimed at focusing awareness on liver disease and helping prevent liver cancer.

Around 500 residents from various walks of life took part in a walkathon that was also held.

Eat right, stay fit

-- Reduce rice consumption

-- Avoid rich foods, sweets and chocolates

- Avoid junk food and red meat

-- Eat more vegetables, fruits and fish

-- Exercise every day. Jogging and aerobics are especially good for the liver