When our liver cells contain more than 5% of fat, it’s called fatty liver. This could happen if you either consume excess fatty food, a large amount of alcohol, or your body’s ability to utilize fat is very low. Yoga has been more effective in curing fatty liver in adults and children with non-alcoholic liver disease (NAFLD).
Fatty liver can be of different levels and grades. If the scarring of the hepatocytes, or liver cells, is too extreme, the damage may be irreversible. In such a case, solely depending on yoga is not a very good idea.
However, in not so extreme cases, like grade 0 or grade 1, yoga poses can prove quite effective in fatty liver. Yoga poses can treat your fatty liver firstly, by aiding your body in managing the fat consumed in your diet. And secondly, by stimulating your liver cells for healthy functioning. Even studies show that exercise, in general, can have therapeutic effects on patients with fatty liver. The studies reveal that exercise along with a restricted diet can improve blood biochemical composition and histological findings in liver tissues 1.
How do you get fatty liver & what problem it can cause?
Fatty liver can in some people be pure dumb luck; a matter of genetics. Whereas in some cases it’s the result of poor food habits. For example, some people have genetically poor resistance to insulin, which causes fatty liver. And in another instance, some people go through a decade of high fructose diet, or excess alcohol consumption, which leads to fatty liver.
Fatty liver can give birth to many diseases including diabetes, high blood pressure, kidney disease, liver cirrhosis, and liver failure. In the beginning phases, fatty liver is reversible when fat accumulation and inflammation is comparably less, so yoga is effective without the use of any medications.
Can yoga completely cure fatty liver?
As the liver cells continue to store fat, over time they reach a saturation point. At this point, we have a fatty liver. This early stage of the fatty liver will be easy for yoga to cure. However, when the conditions prolong, the fatty liver cells die, and scars from around them. This is a stage when scarring and inflammation of the liver started. Over time the scarring gets intense and the damage irreversible. This is a stage when depending solely on yoga will not be sufficient.
Although, yoga will definitely not harm even at the extreme stages. In fact, shatkarma yoga cleansing practices like kunjal kriya and Basti might help slow down the necrosis (premature death of cells) of your liver cells. If the Inflammation and scarring are mild, you can consider yoga. Yoga poses can provide anti-inflammatory benefits and restore cell regeneration.
Benefits of Yoga for Liver
Fatty liver is a complicated condition, resulting from your digestive processes. Thus yoga for digestion has multiple digestive benefits, and liver benefits, that can all collectively aid your condition of fatty liver. These benefits will also help people prevent the development of the fatty liver.
1. Yoga helps boosts lipid metabolism
Yoga poses and pranayama exercises boost lipid metabolism to help your body manage the fat consumed in your diet. Different yoga poses for the abdomen, collectively, will help you digest, absorb, transport, utilize and filter the fat. The successful processing of each of these lipid metabolic functions will prevent fat build-up in your liver cells.
2. Yoga promotes insulin production
Different parts of our body have fat cells or adipocytes. The purpose of these cells is to store fat. This process of fat storage is important because if not stored it will be released into the blood 2 which will later accumulate in the liver cells.
Yoga poses that stretch and squeezes the liver, stimulate the production of insulin. This insulin further stimulates the fat cells to store the available fat, thus prevent the liver to absorb fat.
3. Yoga counters insulin resistance
Sometimes due to a genetic anomaly, the adipocytes (fat cells) are not influenced by insulin. In such cases, the yoga poses focusing on adipocyte-rich regions, provide external stimulation to store fat. Studies also suggest that yoga-like leisure-time physical activities can enhance insulin sensitivity and glucose homeostasis, both of which reduce the fat build-up in the liver 3.
Note that this is the normal fat storage, which is required by our body; especially for generating heat and energy. This fat storage won’t cause obesity.
4. Yoga improves hormonal functions
Your hormonal stability interferes with almost every biological mechanism in your body, including the ones related to your liver. Yoga can help you maintain a proper balance of hormones and their activities. This can lead to multiple benefits like cell regeneration, nutrients absorption, blood circulation, healthy metabolism, and so on.
5. Yoga enhances the production of liver enzymes
The liver enzymes are critical to your digestion and metabolism in multiple ways. From breaking down of the food to nutrients absorption to filtration, they play a pivotal part. Studies have shown that yoga poses and other exercises can increase enzyme production by the liver in Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver 4. An important function of one such enzyme, aminotransferase, is the synthesis of amino acids, which form proteins.
6. Yoga helps liver with the filtration process
As we invest the food, the stomach and intestine break it down and absorb the nutrients. The absorbed nutrients are then released into the bloodstream. The blood carrying the nutrients is then sent to the liver for filtration. This is an immense task, where the liver performs a bulk load of work. It sorts out the important nutrients and stores them accordingly. Certain other important nutrients are released back into the blood. And the rest is considered toxic or waste and processed for excretion.
In fatty liver disease, your liver cells lack stimulation, and then fail to perform their tasks properly. Yoga poses are the perfect external stimulation for your hepatocytes (liver cells). When fatty liver prolongs, the cells start to die; naturally the liver functions suffer. Yoga poses will help you slow down the death of fatty liver cells. This will put a stopper to the deterioration of liver functions. In some cases, where the degeneration is at the very initial stages, yoga may also help you grow new healthy liver cells.
Yoga Poses to Cure Fatty liver
You can try the following yoga poses for fatty liver. If you practice regularly and under an experienced instructor, you can start seeing results in just three months. Most treatment solutions will just attempt to treat your liver. Yoga, however, apart from treating your fatty liver, will establish an overall physical and mental benefit. Which is a much-appreciated bonus.
1. Cat-Cow Pose
Cat/Cow is a yoga pose, one might say built specifically for your liver. The Cat/Cow squeezes and expands particularly the liver region of your abdomen. If you have mild levels of inflammation and scarring of the liver, Cat/Cow should be your go-to yoga.
- Get down on all fours, hands and knees
- Keep your wrists directly below your shoulders and knees below your hips.
- Keep your knees hip width apart.
- Roll your shoulders back, inhale, drop your belly, and look up.
- Hold the pose for 5 seconds.
- With an exhale, roll your shoulders front, look down and suck in your belly to curl it up against your spine.
- Repeat the entire pose 5-7 times.
If you have a cramped abdomen or inflamed liver, curling up your belly can be hurtful. If you force beyond the point it hurts, it can have negative effects. Curl only upto a point it feels safe
2. Cobra Pose – Bhujangasana
Cobra pose is very beneficial to your abdominal organs, cardiovascular system, and CNS. Holding cobra pose for few breaths in one complete stretch will enhance hormonal functions, metabolic functions, and insulin activities, to relieve fatty liver.
- Lie on the front of your body.
- Place your hands by the sides of your chest.
- Press against the floor and arch up your body.
- Keep arching till you can look straight Infront, straighten your hands and your chest is facing the front.
- Keep your shoulders pressed down.
- Keep the arch in your spine even, use your abdominal muscles to guide the spinal arch.
- Ensure that your pelvis is not lifted off the floor.
- Hold the pose for 5-7 breaths.
Use a rolled towel to lift your lower abdomen. Roll a towel in U shape. Place the base of the U below your lower abdomen, and the arms of U under the sides of your lower abdomen.
3. Frog Pose – Mandukasana
Frog pose is beneficial to almost all parts of the digestive system and liver. This pose encourages movement within your digestive tracts.
Fatty liver disease may arise from lack of blood circulation which can result cramps, gas and bloating. Frog pose is one of the best yoga poses to improve your blood circulation in abdomen.
- Kneel down on your knees, with knees hip width apart.
- Fold and bend your knees and sit back between your feet.
- Place both your hands over your belly button and inhale.
- With an exhale slightly press in your tummy.
- Keeping your tummy pressed bend forward.
- Bend forward all the way so that your chest touches your knees.
- Keep breathing and hold the pose for about 20-30 seconds.
Remember to press in your tummy gently, and not aggressively, which is also a common practice. The aggressive pressing generally yields more benefits. But in case of scarred liver, it might do more harm.
4. Plow Pose – Halasana
Plow pose will help you reduce your fatigue, improve your blood circulation and enhance your metabolism. This pose also supports your liver to aid its detoxification functions. Above that, it enhances your cardiovascular functions, which play an important role in your liver health.
- Lie supine and keep your legs joined.
- Raise your body and legs upward, into an inverted upright posture.
- Get into a shoulder stand by balancing the inverted posture on your shoulders.
- Support your hips with your hands, bend your legs from your hips and bring them down slowly over your head.
- Bring your legs down all the way, so you can touch the floor above your head with your toes.
- Breathe steadily and hold the pose for 5-7 breaths.
As you bend down your legs, your knees will tend to bend and extend outwards. You must resist it. If the pose seems difficult, initially bring down your legs partially. And then let your hips drop down a bit, but keep it held with your hands. Then increase the bend in your hips and then push your hips upward with your hands.
5. Half Lord of the Fish Pose – Ardha Matsyendrasana
Half lord of the fish pose creates a twist in your abdomen that gives rejuvnating and relaxing effect to your abdomen muscles and liver. This relaxation will aid the reduction of inflammation in your liver, and even promote the growth of healthy liver cells. The twist of this pose will squeeze your liver for proper insulin production.
- Sit in a staff position
- Bend and fold up your right knee.
- Take the right foot over your left knee, and take it to the left side of your left knee.
- Place your right foot against your left knee.
- Hold your right knee with your left hand.
- Twist your torso and turn your upper body to your right, by 90 degrees.
- Plant your right hand on the floor behind you and lock your pose.
- Turn your head and look in the direction of your right shoulder.
- Hold the pose for 5-7 breaths.
- Repeat the pose on your left side by bending up your left leg.
You can twist more than 90 degrees and turn all the way facing towards your back, and that is called full lord of the fish. However, that much of a twist can injure your already delicate liver.
6. Downward Facing Dog – Adho Mukha Svanasana
Downward facing dog pose will influence your body cells to store nutrients, including fats, countering the effects of insulin resistance. This pose is a great benefactor of hormonal activities that benefit your liver health. In a holistic sense, downward facing dog stimulates all major systems in your body, including nervous, cardiovascular and metabolic.
- Get down on all fours, your knees and hands.
- Keep your knees hip width apart and right below your hips.
- Keep your wrists right below your shoulders.
- Lift up your knee and push your buttocks upward and backward.
- Straightening both your hands and legs.
- Keep pushing your buttocks upward and backward so that you can stretch your hands and upper back, push your chest down, and plant your heels back on the floor.
- Do not bend your knees.
- Hold the pose for 5 breaths and repeat thrice.
To add a liver specific movement, you can add a torso twist to your downward dog. While in hold, twist your torso and turn to your right, to hold the left foot with your right hand. And then twist and turn to your left to hold your left foot with your right hand.
Pranayama Techniques for Fatty Liver
Pranayama techniques are breathing exercises of yoga. In case of liver diseases or kidney conditions, some pranayamas could be equally beneficial as yoga poses. Two such pranayama techniques are Kapalbhati pranayama and Bhastrika pranayama.
In kapalbhati & bhastrika pranayama, the abdomen wall rapidly moves in and out while breathing through nostrils, which stimulates liver function. It helps get rid of fatty liver. After finishing 2 rounds of kapalbhati & bhastrika, practice anulom vilom pranayama to bring your body & mind in a calming state.
Fatty liver is a condition that most often develops from bad food habits. Thus if you have a fatty liver you must make changes to your food habits, alongside practicing yoga. You will have to reduce the intake of fried food and red meat. Your aggregate consumption of animal fat needs to come down, except that for fatty fish.
To get rid of fatty liver, along with yoga practice, you will have to quit alcohol consumption and highly sugary foods like pastries. Some individuals will also have problems with a gluten rich diet. The timing of your food will also be important. For example you will need to increase your meal frequency and reduce your meal quantity. You must eat a little quantity of food every 2-3 hours.
Include green tea and coffee in your diet, they regulate the liver enzymes. Also, take green vegetables and squash, they avoid the fat build-up. Consider walnuts, avocados, low-fat dairy, and sunflower seeds. Remember a proper diet in fatty liver is as important as exercises and medications.
- Therapeutic effects of restricted diet and exercise on patients with fatty liver https://www.journal-of-hepatology.eu/
- Physical activities result in sustained improvement of fasting insulin https://gut.bmj.com/content/53/3/413
- Role of leisure time physical activities in non-alcoholic fatty liver disease https://aasldpubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/
- effect of exercise on aminotransferase levels in patients with non-alcoholic steatohepatitis https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com