It seems like stress and the modern way of living go hand in hand. But could stress be one of the factors that might cause fatty liver disease? And could it prevent you from reversing your own?
Based on my personal experience and countless hours spent researching this topic, I can give you the answer. And before I go in-depth with it, let me just start with the conclusion, because it is really important.
Stress can be one of the causes of liver-related problems (including fatty liver). Various studies establish a direct correlation between high stress and liver health problems.
I also believe that my high stress levels were one of the direct or indirect causes of my fatty liver (and other health problems too) and dealing with it played an important role in reversing my condition and getting back on track.
In this article (which will probably be very long and personal), I will tell you my story and I’m sure many will be able to relate, but also what is the expert opinion in regards to stress and fatty liver (NAFLD – now MASLD).
This could be your Aha! moment and give you an extra weapon to fight your condition and cure your fatty liver.
What is stress?
In general, medical terms, stress is the body’s way of responding to pressure. While it is something natural and can be useful in some specific situations, the modern human seems to be under constant pressure and always stressed out.
Being long-term under this pressure, we can experience mental problems, feel overwhelmed, unable to cope, tired, and/or cranky. As it advances, we’ll be anxious, sad without reason, and even depressed.
Stress is indeed a tough beast to fight against, especially since dealing with it usually means removing the source of stress: which, in many cases, is very difficult.
Before getting to my personal story and how I managed to deal with stress, we’ll discuss the more “technical” aspect – in case that’s what you came here for and nothing else.
Can stress cause fatty liver disease or liver problems?
My personal experience (more on this below) makes me believe that there is a direct connection between high-stress levels and liver problems – a fatty liver disease, in this case.
But there is scientific data that draws the same conclusion. In the past several years, many studies have been made in an attempt to find out if there’s any correlation between stress and the health of our liver.
Unsurprisingly, they all found out that stress does influence liver health directly. I will quote some of the conclusions the experts drew and link to the sources in case you want to go more in-depth with their findings.
1. A study from 2014 (on mice) concluded that “chronic stress is associated to NAFLD and chronic inflammation in visceral fat, though food intake and visceral fat mass were decreased” (Source here)
2. A paper that looked at countless studies regarding stress and liver health concluded: “Alterations in oxidative stress and antioxidant biomarkers […] indicate that NAFLD is strongly associated with the presence of oxidative stress.” (source)
3. Finally, we have a more recent study published in 2020, made on healthy men and women. It concludes that Perceived Stress Levels “were positively associated with the prevalence of NAFLD.
The association remained significant even after adjustment for multiple socioeconomic, behavioral, and metabolic factors.” (Source)
In other words – yes, stress can be one of the factors that cause liver problems, including fatty liver (MASLD), according to health experts.
We have countless studies, as well as my own experience, that allow us to draw that conclusion.
How does stress affect your liver?
The direct effects that stress has on the liver are explained in the studies mentioned above, but they are too technical. However, stress can also have an indirect effect on your liver’s health.
Most of this is also based on my personal story and experiences and I am sure that MANY of you can relate to.
The most important (in my opinion) relation between stress and fatty liver is overeating. Like many people out there, I am a stress eater.
Whenever I am feeling down, under pressure, tired and overall crappy – I feel like eating. And no, I don’t crave an apple or some blueberries. I am craving unhealthy food.
In my case it’s not the ice-cream that movies made so popular, but unhealthy snacks: crackers, potato chips, tortillas and things like these. They have to be crunchy, salty and greasy. Or very sweet and full of sugar.
These work in calming me down and making me feel better somehow. But these are also extremely unhealthy and bad for the liver.
They are one of the causes why you get overweight – and one of the reasons you get a fatty liver.
Stress also makes you a more sedentary person. When you’re down and tired and anxious you don’t feel like going to the gym (although that would actually help increase your mood).
Yes, there is a connection between fatigue and fatty liver too… and these might all have a root in excessive stress levels.
Stress makes you sit in bed and no nothing but munch on your comfort food and watch TV.
Waste time on the computer… it doesn’t really matter what you do as long as you don’t move. Another indirect potential cause of a fatty liver.
So the indirect effect stress can have on your liver is over-eating, you being less active and even having trouble sleeping, which in turn makes you more stressed, tired, and grumpy.
Your entire body will suffer because you feel stressed out – and the more you are under this pressure, the worse it will be. You won’t develop a fatty liver overnight. Instead, on the long term, you will indirectly cause harm.
This is why dealing with stress is extremely important, even if it might not seem at first one of the causes of a fatty liver.
How reducing stress helped me reverse my fatty liver
This is my personal story. While one can say that it’s not representative for generalization, I believe it is.
Just like the fact that if I managed to reverse my fatty liver means that anybody can do it, it also means that anybody and everybody could suffer the same as I did.
Stress, fatty liver and various other health problems
The experience that I am sharing today is extremely personal and honest. I have never shared some of the parts here with anybody until today.
I am sharing them with you in the hopes that you won’t make the same mistakes that I did.
Do share your problems with others – especially a doctor. I was fortunate to be able to beat this mostly by myself, but I also ended up seeing various doctors and physicians when things got bad. Make sure to visit a specialist ASAP, even if you consider your problems to be minor!
My problems started many years ago – and I kept ignoring the signs that my body was sending me. I was young, I knew nothing, I felt invincible.
After being extremely active in high school (playing basketball 15-20 hours per week) I went to the other extreme in college.
Wasted nights, alcohol, spending entire days playing on the computer, eating NO cooked food – just crap.
This way of living started to have a negative impact on me, but it was not just that.
Soon, I was fresh out of college and broke. No money, no job, no real plans for the future, living a horrible life and eating like I wanted to destroy myself.
I had put on over 30 kg (66 lbs) in a few years. I was always tired, had horrible headaches, I was cranky at all times.
And then, real life hit me hard. Overweight, broke and with no real prospects, I learned that my father had just been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Right now, I can’t actually say (or write the words), but it was liver-related. He was gone in less than two months after the diagnosis.
I moved back home to help my mother and grandmother who were living together (something common in my country).
Just a couple of years later, my grandmother – who meant the world to me – suffered a stroke and became a completely different person.
She was unable to talk right, she was unable to move without much help… it was devastating.
All these things, combined with my horrible way of living (I was still going to sleep very late, getting a couple of hours each night, I was still eating crap and drinking a lot) almost broke me.
Stress was at all time high levels. I started experiencing all of its bad side-effects. I was cranky and irritable at all times.
But I was also anxious, almost hypochondriac and afraid of going out. Partying with my friends was all that kept me sane, but I started to develop an irrational fear of going out and always found excuses not to go.
When I did manage to force myself to go out and have fun, it was the opposite: I was always afraid that something bad will happen. I had to live with this feeling that kept eating me alive and making things even worse.
I told nobody about this and I regret it. I needed help – badly – but for some reason, I was too afraid to ask for it.
Until I finally did.
When I did, I had already been diagnosed with high blood pressure (and taking medication for that), IBS (irritable bowel syndrome) and other strange symptoms like paresthesia on my face (all of which were scary).
One of the doctors I visited – the one I feel saved my life – told me, three seconds after seeing me: “You’re a mess. You have to change everything. Now. There’s no other way you can make it.”
Looking at photos from back then is painful. I was tired and you could see that in all photos I am in. I had huge, puffy, dark black eyebags. I was round like a ball.
And what you could not see – what was inside my soul, the huge stress levels I was dealing with – was even worse.
All these while I was still making close to no money, which added so much extra pressure in my life. Constant fights in the family because of money and other strange reasons.
That feeling that you have when you’re broke and it looks like you failed as a human being. More stress and even more problems inside the family (won’t go into the details here).
During this time, I turned into a workaholic. This was one of the good side effects of me not finding the mental power to go outside. I also did a lot of research and tried to help myself as much as possible.
I started talking to my girlfriend (now wife) and tell her most of the things that I was feeling.
Like a crazy man, each day I would go in the bathroom and give me pep talks in the mirror. This might sound like a silly, crazy thing to do.
But to me – this made a huge difference. This had a big impact over my mental health and my power to cope.
I also turned to God. I was nothing but an agnostic, but I still turned to God. I needed somebody to talk to, to ask help from – to BELIEVE can help me. And He did.
I didn’t go to the church, I didn’t start to study the Bible and I’m not a reformed man now. I just created that direct, personal connection with God. I created my own prayers and prayed a lot. Asked for His help.
After all these years, I still pray to Him every night. Things like this help, even though there’s absolutely no scientific proof to back you up.
I am not saying that you should do the same or that this alone is enough to cure you. But whatever helps, whatever gives you the strength to change, to turn your life around – without being dangerous or harmful to you or others – is more than welcome.
I had already started doing all these things and changing my life a little bit, but it was difficult. I still had little money, I still had all sorts of issues and I simply felt that stress was eating me alive.
New symptoms and strange things added to my problems list: tinnitus (it just started one day out of the blue and hasn’t stopped since).
Back-related problems. I developed allergies to things I was never allergic to before. I developed a horrible fear of heights – I can be just 1-2 meters (3-6 feet) high and it makes me dizzy and unbalanced. Lots of other smaller symptoms.
I was doing better, but I still had a long way to go. I only had trust in the doctor that I mentioned before – but he unfortunately passed away too. I did see a couple of other doctors, but I somehow didn’t trust them.
So I kept doing my thing, based on all that I could learn from the previous doctor. I started taking some supplements too… but I was far from healthy.
And then – the big scare struck me. I got diagnosed with a fatty liver.
Unlike all the other problems I had, including the many that I just thought I had, it was this diagnosis that scared me to death. Since my father had passed away from liver-related problems, I was certain I was about to die too.
I got home and started crying. At that time, my son was 1 year old. I was 30.
A miracle – basically the strength that my family gave me – helped me turn everything around.
I was not only horrified that I might force my son to grew without a father (or at least his real father), but I was also the only one who was working and making money and keeping the family fed.
I just had to change everything. So I did.
I knew that stress was the root of all evil in my case. I had already started to work against it – and it was a good thing, because it’s not something you get rid of in a day.
But this time, I stuck to my plan. I was changing my life. I was becoming a different person. I had to.
I stopped eating crap. I started working out. These two things were extremely difficult to do – but these helped me the most overall.
Yes, I felt horrible and found all the excuses in the world NOT to work out – but I still forced me to do it, and each time after I did I felt much better.
I started meditating, reading self-improvement blogs. Watching motivational Youtube videos.
I kept talking to myself in the mirror (note: I stopped doing this for several years no, so not cuckoo-crazyhere). I kept praying to God.
I learned to stop and take a breath. I learned to enjoy and appreciate the things I had. I got energy and healing power from hugging my wife. From hugging my son. Just hugging them and closing my eyes… and everything was better.
I started to sleep more. I actually took a break from work and went on a “sabbatical” for an entire month. During this time, I walked a lot, I ate clean (from the Mediterranean diet to the Paleo Diet for fatty liver reversal), I slept probably 16 hours each day and listened to audiobooks.
I became a different person.
The fatty liver that I thought would kill me helped me become a better person.
While I can’t say 100% that it was stress that had caused it, I actually can. If that makes any sense.
All the problems I had were caused by stress (which indeed had various other real causes). But I wouldn’t have managed to do anything without reducing the stress levels.
I am not rich today. I still have various health problems. I know that I’m not living in a perfect world. But I’m trying to make the most out of it.
Dealing with stress and getting rid of it, refusing to let it control my life and understanding that it is the source of all that’s bad in my life was the lifeboat I needed.
With the changes that followed, I managed to reverse my fatty liver. I lost weight and I have a lot more energy each day, feeling better and happier than ever before.
But I also managed to get my blood pressure under control and it’s been years since I’ve been taken off the meds, with normal blood pressure.
My IBS is gone, too.
Yes, I still have health issues and I am not 100% cured. But things have changed tremendously. But, boy, did I fight for this to happen!
I did it – you can do too. It was difficult, but not impossible.
You do have to understand that stress might be one of the main causes that is causing your problems.
Your fatty liver might be caused from bad eating habits and lack of exercise – but these might be a result of too much stress in your life.
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Stress doesn’t help. Excessive stress, that is. Do whatever it takes to get rid of that. And please, don’t take the LONG road that I did – and ask for help as soon as possible.
Get rid of everything that stresses you out. Learn to enjoy life. Accept the fact that you don’t have control over everything.
Accept the fact that things won’t always go as planned or as you’d like them to. Accept the fact that life is meant to be enjoyed with both good and bad things in it.
This will help you lower your stress levels, which will make it a lot easier for you to deal with the fatty liver and any other problems you might have.
It might not cure you directly, but it will help you find the power to do the right things and cure yourself. Get help, make a plan and stick it.
It’s cliché already – but if I managed to do it, then anybody can!
I was diagnosed with a fatty liver back in 2014 and managed to reverse it by mid-2015. Since then, I’ve been studying it, continuously updating my knowledge with the latest scientific findings and practical approaches to give others the help they need to reverse their condition.
My approach to managing fatty liver is holistic, balancing scientifically-backed information with real-life, practical advice based on personal, direct experience.
I am also the admin of the Fatty Liver Support Group on Facebook and the Fatty Liver Subreddit.