Dr Alex Hodge is a gastroenterologist and expert in chronic liver disease at Monash Medical Centre. He has a special interest in obesity and is familiar with the many different to ways to combat it.
There is good reason for his concern with up to 40% of the population in Australia living with fatty liver disease. The bad news is that 10-15% of those with fatty liver will have inflammation (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis -NASH) and many of those will go on to develop even worse conditions.
‘I look at what fat can do inside the liver, and what fat means for the patient outside the liver,” he says.
“Inside it can eventually cause fibrosis and cirrhosis, outside it is a risk factor for developing diabetes.”
In addition to recommending a Mediterranean diet as so wonderfully described in our Eating Well: A Living Well Lifestyle Guide, Dr Hodge also talks about the health benefits of drinking more than four cups of coffee a day and the bad news about alcohol.
“All the studies of coffee have been positive studies… and show that there’s an association between coffee consumption and improvement in various liver parameters…if you give people four or more cups of coffee a day, they have less liver cancer, less liver fibrosis.
“It’s caffeinated coffee we are talking about so it could be instant coffee, expresso-based coffee or filtered.”
For other drinks, water, alcohol and fruit juice, the advice is clear.
“Let’s start with alcohol…unfortunately, that there is no safe amount of alcohol that we can recommend to patients,” he says.
“Previously we’d say if you follow the Australian guidelines you should be safe, but now is somebody asks you the safest amount of alcohol to drink, the answer is zero. Studies show that for patients with NAFLD even a modest amount of alcohol impedes the liver’s function.
“Water is a great beverage, but juice is high in sugar and we recommend not taking it especially if sugar is added.”