Think you’re safe from liver disease if you’ve got no history of alcoholism and haven’t turned yellow? Not so fast. The most common cause of this disease isn’t firewater (or even hepatitis), but fatty foods. And even virus-free teetotalers who manifest no symptoms can have liver disease. The statistics may surprise you:
• About one in 10 people (and possibly more) have liver disease, often without knowing it.
• In the US, two-thirds of the people diagnosed with cirrhosis—the result of chronic liver disease—have nonalcoholic fatty liver disease caused by obesity.
• People in their 20s and 30s, and even children, are now commonly diagnosed with cirrhosis, formerly an older person’s disease.
Unfortunately, no one’s found an easy way to determine if you have fatty liver disease before the situation becomes dire. Diagnostic blood tests often give false results, and biopsies are painful. While ultrasounds detect fatty livers with much greater accuracy, they still lack 100 percent certainty. Your best bet? Maintain a healthy weight. Steer clear of trans fats completely, and keep total fat consumption to less than 30 percent of your daily calories. And it’s never too late to start: Given time to heal, the liver can regenerate from a fifth of its original size and be as good as new.