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The Surprising Link Between the Liver and Mental Health

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Experiencing anxiety, depression, mood swings, memory loss, sleep impairment, personality changes?


If the above symptoms make you think “mental illness,” then you may be overlooking a potential cause now affecting nearly half of American adults: fatty liver disease. This once-rare condition results primarily from factors such as excess body fat, poor dietary practices, alcohol and substance abuse.

Although most people know about obesity and diabetes, far fewer have heard about fatty liver disease, their close metabolic cousin. And almost no one realises how closely their liver health is connected to their mental health.

The aim of this blog post is to shed more light about this topic.

The Liver and Mental Health

The liver is a remarkable organ, both for its staggering contributions to our overall health and for its vast underappreciation by the general public. Outside of specialised liver doctors—such as hepatologists and gastroenterologists—even most healthcare providers do not realise the hundreds of life-enabling functions the liver performs each day.

The liver is the ultimate domestic engineer, working 24-7 to chemically neuter toxins in our blood before they infect our bodies. The organ functions as a nutritional warehouse for many essential vitamins and minerals and metabolises medicines, alcohol, and other substances that would otherwise quickly jeopardise our existence.

But even the marvelous liver has limits. Too much insulin, too much alcohol, or too much fructose, for example, and even the normally indomitable liver can no longer keep pace and begins to develop invasive fat within the liver tissue itself (the liver, under normal conditions, contains only trace amounts of fat).

The first signs of liver disease are sometimes recognised by physicians in the form of chronically elevated triglycerides, results on liver function tests such as alanine aminotransferase (ALT), or even by certain medical imaging procedures such as MRI and ultrasound. Caught early, fatty liver disease is treatable, frequently even reversible.

When these signs are missed, however, liver fat levels slowly progress, spiraling from the initial stages of inflammation to fibrosis and even cirrhosis. The latter cirrhosis stage is when the life-threatening process of liver failure ensues. As liver disease progresses across these stages, not only do many forms of physical illness become more likely, but symptoms of mental illness also increase.

Fatty Liver Disease


Fatty liver disease develops from alcohol use, metabolic disease and poor lifestyle habits


A fatty liver becomes impaired in its ability to detoxify the body



Toxins accumulate in the body and the brain, causing symptoms associated with mental illness.

As shown in Figure 1 above, liver disease can be a direct cause of mental health symptoms because a compromised liver cannot prevent toxins in the blood from reaching the brain.

These unwelcome invaders then proceed to wreak havoc on a range of critical brain functions. Concentration, memory, mood stability, and the ability to tolerate and respond to stress are just a few of the potential mental capacities that can be impaired when toxins begin accumulating in the brain. Sadly, fatty liver disease remains a silent epidemic in the U.S., with most people unaware of the signs, symptoms, or causes.

Healthy Liver, Healthy Mind

Treating fatty liver disease is a good news/bad news situation. The bad news is that there are no medicines approved by the FDA for the treatment of fatty liver disease.

Unlike high blood pressure, cholesterol, or glucose, there is no simple prescription drug for fatty liver disease.

Instead, the most effective treatments for improving fatty liver disease and liver-induced mental health symptoms are behavioural.

  • Losing body fat—particularly abdominal area body fat
  • reducing sugar and fructose intake
  • lowering insulin resistance through exercise, sleep, and stress management
  • limiting or eliminating alcohol and certain medicines that can harm the liver in high quantities such as acetaminophen (Tylenol)


are some of the best ways to improve liver function (particularly at early stages).

Because fatty liver disease is becoming more common each year worldwide, a growing number of people will experience the physical and mental side effects of the condition. Talk to your doctor or Health care practitioner about liver function tests during healthcare visits, and remember how this much this vital organ contributes to your health and well-being.


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