This NativePath content is medically reviewed or fact-checked to ensure factually accurate information.
With strict editorial sourcing guidelines, we only link to academic research institutions, reputable media sites, and, when research is available, medically peer-reviewed studies. Note that the numbers in parentheses (1, 2, etc.) are clickable links to these studies.
The information in our articles is NOT intended to replace that of a qualified healthcare professional and is not intended as medical advice.
May 10, 2022
The Surprising Cause of Liver Disease, Plus How MCT Powder Can Help
Do you know how healthy your liver is right now?
Chances are, if you’re not a big drinker, you don’t think about your liver much…
But there’s a liver problem that affects millions of people every year, and it doesn’t even involve alcohol.
In fact, the most common liver disease in the US isn’t caused by alcohol at all!
Keep reading to find out the #1 cause of liver disease, and how you can lower your risk—naturally.
The Most Common Liver Disease Has NOTHING to Do with Alcohol
Every year, millions of people are diagnosed with fatty liver disease, a leading driver of liver-related deaths (1, 2).
This disease comes in two forms: Alcoholic fatty liver disease and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Alcoholic fatty liver disease is caused by drinking and is more well-known, which creates dangerous misconceptions—because NAFLD is a silent culprit.
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is the most common chronic liver disease in the US (3). It develops when large balloons of unprocessed triglyceride fat accumulate in your liver cells—a process called steatosis. It affects a whopping 30% of the US population and is becoming increasingly common worldwide (3, 4).
Even if you’ve never been an over-drinker, you can develop chronic liver problems. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can do just as much harm as alcoholic liver disease, and in fact, it can cause a greater fatty degeneration of liver cells (5).
Without treatment, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can damage your liver, and can even lead to cirrhosis (late-stage scarring of your liver) and liver failure.
Your liver is responsible for hundreds of functions that play a role in your metabolism, digestion, detoxification, immunity, and storage of energy and vitamins (6).
It’s a major key to your body’s healthy functioning, which is why it’s so important to protect it from liver disease.
There are four stages of fatty liver disease, and the earlier you catch it, the better (7).
- Simple Fatty Liver: This condition is also called steatosis, and it happens when there is excess fat in the liver. A small amount of fat in the liver is normal, but at this first stage of the disease, there is more than there should be. If fatty liver disease does not progress beyond this stage, it can remain largely harmless—that’s why it’s important to catch it early.
- Steatohepatitis: At this stage, your liver becomes inflamed in addition to containing excess fat.
- Fibrosis: When you enter this stage, your liver now has some scarring from inflammation. Your liver can still function like it’s supposed to, but it’s imperative that you take action to avoid the fourth stage, cirrhosis.
- Cirrhosis: This is when your liver has widespread scarring that gets in the way of its ability to function properly. This stage is irreversible.
In many cases, fatty liver disease has zero symptoms. That might sound concerning, but the disease can be reversed in its early stages, and there are things you can do to be aware of your risk—starting with knowing what actually causes NAFLD.
What Actually Causes Most Cases of Fatty Liver Disease
So now the truth is out: Most major liver problems are not caused by alcohol.
But if alcohol isn’t the culprit, what is?
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease has plenty of risk factors, including high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, family history, and weight, but one that especially stands out is your level of long-chain triglycerides (8)...
The disease is a direct result of unprocessed triglycerides accumulating in your liver cells, so the amount of triglycerides in your blood is a key risk factor.
How Blood Fats Like Long-Chain Triglycerides Can Hurt Your Liver
Triglycerides are a type of blood fat. Like cholesterol, triglycerides accumulate in your bloodstream. If you regularly eat more calories than your body needs—especially if you’re getting them from high-carb foods—you’re more likely to have high triglycerides (9).
Triglycerides are the main ingredient in human body fat, and can be just as dangerous for your health as cholesterol, especially when it comes to heart disease (10, 11).
You’ll find triglycerides in foods like butter, vegetable oils, starchy foods (like potatoes, pasta, and cereal), starchy vegetables (like peas and corn), and refined grains (like white bread and pasta), along with food and drinks that are high in sugar, saturated fats, and calories.
As many as one-third of Americans may have high triglyceride levels (12)...
Triglycerides add up fast. For instance, when you eat an excess of high-fat foods (like hamburgers and french fries) or simple carbohydrates (like candy and soft drinks), your triglyceride levels can skyrocket.
If your bloodstream is high in triglycerides, your body may have an increased level of stored fat, and some of that fat can begin to accumulate in the liver—that’s when NAFLD can take root (13, 14).
Luckily, there’s a different kind of fat—a healthy fat—that can improve your outlook.
Can MCTs Help Fight Fatty Liver Disease?
Medium-chain triglycerides, also called MCTs, are a type of fatty acid that could help lower your risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (15). While they share the word “triglyceride” in their name, they couldn’t be more different than the unhealthy triglycerides found in most foods.
The most common form of triglycerides—the unhealthy kind—are called long-chain triglycerides (16). Most fats in the food we eat daily, as well as body fat, are long-chain triglycerides.
Medium-chain triglycerides, on the other hand, are much less common in our diet. They are found in foods like palm oil, coconut oil, and some dairy products.
The difference between long-chain and medium-chain triglycerides is how they are processed in the body.
Long-chain fatty acids travel through your lymphatic system before landing in your liver to be converted to fuel or into stored energy. MCTs, on the other hand, go straight to your liver, where they’re quickly broken down and converted into fuel for immediate use (17).
Along with their rapid absorption, which means access to instant energy, MCTs also offer other benefits, especially for your metabolic health and weight loss (18, 19).
The benefits of MCTs would be promising for liver health even on their own, but new studies point to an even stronger benefit…
Research suggests that substituting triglyceride-heavy ingredients with MCTs could help prevent NAFLD-related liver injuries from progressing (15). In fact, oils containing MCTs may even be considered a form of therapy for the disease.
How to Use MCTs to Protect Your Liver
Along with substituting long-chain triglycerides with MCTs in your diet, regularly taking a powdered MCT oil supplement can help you access a more liver-healthy source of energy.
Our NativePath MCT Oil Powder can be mixed into smoothies, coffee, tea, soup, and just about anything else. In addition to protecting your liver health, it can provide extra focus to keep you centered on busy days (20).
A quick blood test can tell you if you have high triglyceride levels. If you do, focus on lowering them by cutting back on high-triglyceride foods, loading up on vegetables and lean proteins, and getting regular exercise (21).
The Bottom Line
Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease can happen to anyone, even if you’ve never been much of a drinker. Since there aren’t always symptoms to warn you, you have to stay vigilant and watch your blood triglyceride levels.
Luckily, if you catch it early, you can manage or reverse the damage—but hopefully, with positive habits, you won’t develop NAFLD at all.
To help protect your liver, watch out for unhealthy fats, get regular exercise, and make MCTs a part of your daily routine.
As a writer, editor, and wellness seeker, Claire has written for Self, Health, Prevention, CNN, Mic, Livestrong, and Greatist, just to name a few. When she's not writing, she specializes in traveling, getting lost in health-related research rabbit holes, and finding new ways to spoil her cat.
This content is for informational and educational purposes only. It is not intended to provide medical advice or to take the place of such advice or treatment from a personal physician. All readers/viewers of this content are advised to consult their doctors or qualified health professionals regarding specific health questions. Neither Dr. Chad Walding nor the publisher of this content takes responsibility for possible health consequences of any person or persons reading or following the information in this educational content. All viewers of this content, especially those taking prescription or over-the-counter medications, should consult their physicians before beginning any nutrition, supplement, or lifestyle program.
Why do you say that it’s dangerous to take MCT oil when you have liver disease when you encourage taking MCT powder.
Hi SharlEen! The most common form of triglycerides—the unhealthy kind—are called long-chain triglycerides. Most fats in the food we eat daily, as well as body fat, are long-chain triglycerides. Medium-chain triglycerides, also called MCTs, are a type of fatty acid that could help lower your risk of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. We do recommend MCT oil powder as a great option for liver health! Have a wonderful week!
Comment ( 1 )