Fatty Liver and Fatigue: What’s the Connection?

If you’re feeling tired throughout the day and get sleepy faster than usually, this might be one of the symptoms or effects of your fatty liver.

Today, we’ll learn why does fatty liver cause fatigue and what to do about it.

There are many other things that could be behind extreme fatigue but a fatty liver disease and liver related problems is one of the potential causes.

In my case, extreme tiredness – up to the point of exhaustion – was one of the main symptoms of my fatty liver. I’ve been feeling extremely tired even before getting diagnosed and I had no idea what was causing it. But the fatigue was real.

I was feeling exhausted at all times. My days were turning into a nightmare.

I could wake up feeling relatively well rested, but after around three hours (sometimes less) I would get very tired and sleepy. By noon, I was exhausted. Eating lunch helped a bit with my energy levels, but I usually had to nap on an almost daily basis.

And despite all this, I was still feeling tired throughout the entire day.

After being diagnosed, my doctor told me that my extreme tiredness could be a result of my fatty liver disease. She also assured me that things should improve as I work on reversing my condition.

exhaustion from fatty liver

But before it got better, in my case, things got worse. This happened a few months after starting my diet and it was the breaking point for me. I was so exhausted that I couldn’t even work.

I thought that I am actually suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome and it was probably a result of my fatty liver (which was still improving), my radical change of diet (especially reducing sugars by a ton) and my actual work which involved me spending 8 hours plus in front of a computer’s screen. My stress levels were also insanely high.

Due to my line of work, I was lucky enough to be able to take a month-long break from everything and do nothing but rest, sleep and relax. This month absolutely changed my life and made me get back on track.

Even though I am generally against taking supplements if not given by a doctor, I did take Magnesium supplements, as well as vitamin supplements during this time and I did manage to get back on track. But it was one of my all time lows during the time.

The good thing is that if I managed to get through what I could call debilitating tiredness, anybody else can. But you do have to rest – even if you can’t really go on a month-long hiatus like I did.

Yes, I know that this was a rather long introduction – but hopefully it will bring a bit of peace of mind. If you suffer from MASLD (fatty liver disease) and you’re feeling tired: you are not alone. And the best part: it can be fixed!

Can fatty liver disease make you feel fatigued?

Yes, fatty liver can make you feel tired. There are various studies that confirm the fact that tiredness is indeed one of the symptoms of MASLD. It’s still not entirely clear why this is happening, but it does.

But let’s focus next a bit on the reasons why a fatty liver disease might cause fatigue.

Why does fatty liver disease cause fatigue?

feeling tired because of fatty liver

While the scientists are still not 100% sure what exactly causes fatigue when you suffer from a fatty liver, there are a few main things that contribute to you feeling tired at all times:

  • Liver function impairment, resulting in less energy being produced and distributed throughout the body
  • Inflammation of the liver could release pro-inflammatory cytokines which might contribute to the general feeling of tiredness
  • Lack of physical activity associated with MASLD
  • Not getting enough sleep because of the condition

For some people, this fatigue indeed has opposite effects than what you’d anticipate. Some have problems sleeping through the night or falling asleep, making things even worse.

In this case, it’s essential to plan your days in such a way that you still end up getting enough sleep (through naps) otherwise things can’t improve too much.

Fortunately, a study on 156 people suffering from a fatty liver published in 2008 found no connection between the severity of the condition and how tired you feel.

So extreme tiredness is not a sign that your fatty liver is getting worse. At the same time, feeling just a bit tired doesn’t necessarily mean that your fatty liver is minimal. There is simply no connection.

Based on my own experience with these and based on the fact that I was so incredibly tired – yet my doctor told me that I am “somewhere between grade 1 and 2” (so not that bad), I can confirm that you can get extremely tired even in the early stages of a fatty liver.

Can liver problems cause fatigue?

Yes, liver problems – including fatty liver – can cause fatigue in various degrees of intensity. From debilitating to just feeling a bit tired, you will most likely experience at least some sort of fatigue if you have liver problems.

Another study published in 2019 confirms it. It concludes:

“Liver is central to the pathogenesis of peripheral and central fatigue, which in our view is dependent upon energy regulation and crosstalk between the gut, liver, muscle and brain.”

How to get rid of the excessive fatigue associated with a fatty liver?

Getting enough sleep is essential, but you also need to watch your diet and stick to eating liver-friendly foods.

Also, even though it might seem very difficult to achieve, aerobic and resistance exercise are essential in getting rid of your fatigue and overall management of the condition. You can read more about the best exercises for fatty liver here.

working out to get rid of NAFLD exhaustion

When I was at my worst – back then when I took a month off to basically rest – I could barely walk. And it is indeed recommended not to exercise if you are that tired.

But try to get at least some sort of exercise – even if it’s just a bit of walking at a faster pace. Things will get better with time.

When you feel so tired, just thinking about running for example makes your stomach churn. I know, because I have been there.

But I also know that after a workout, I always felt much better. More energized and in a much better mood. Getting started proved to be the actual challenge, not the workout itself.

I personally did cardio training exclusively. I started very, very slow and gradually increased levels.

Initially, I just walked for 30 minutes as fast as I could. Then I started running a bit – but I rarely managed to get past 5 minutes of a slow-ish jog. But eventually I got better and could run 40 minutes without stopping.

A combination of a liver-friendly diet, regular exercise and losing weight, as well as trying to relax more and get as much sleep as I needed (most nights I slept 10 hours and I still need over 8 hours of sleep each night to feel good) – all these will help you beat the fatigue and also your fatty liver.

If I did it, so can you!

Final words

Fatigue is usually related to MASLD (aka fatty liver) and we’ll all feel it to some extent. It is important to try to manage it as well as possible, knowing that it will get better as our liver heals.

Therefore, the better job we’re doing with healing our liver by eating right, exercising and getting good sleep, the faster we’ll be able to get back on track.

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