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Signs of Liver Disease: Early Detection Matters

Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
  • Fatty liver disease is a common disease of the liver that is not always caused by the consumption of alcohol or hepatitis. 

    Early symptoms may be hard to detect. A blood test is the best way to confirm whether or not your liver is in danger. 

    Taking a supplement like fatty15, along with lifestyle changes, can dramatically improve the health of your liver, even if you have fatty liver disease. 

How Does the Liver Work?

One of the largest organs in your body, second only to your skin, the liver, has over 500 identifiable functions. It’s essential for life and can even repair and regrow itself in some cases. 

Although there are numerous functions the liver is responsible for, we’ll focus on three: filtration of toxins, breakdown of fats, and glycogen storage. 


You’ve probably seen a lot of advertisements for “detoxes.” The good news is that as long as you have a healthy liver, you don’t need to take any steps to detox your body. 

The liver is tasked with removing toxins and impurities, and even processing medications. Your blood passes through the liver, where it is cleansed from unneeded and/or dangerous pathogens before returning to the rest of your body. 

After the liver filters out these pathogens, they’re sent out of your body through urine and feces. It’s the number one cleanse your body needs, and with a healthy liver, you can rest assured your body is getting a daily, continual “detox.”

Breakdown of Fats

The liver produces bile, which is needed to help the body break down and digest fats that you eat. Bile breaks fats in your food down into fatty acids, which are shuttled to the cells that need them. 

Glycogen Storage

When we consume carbohydrates, the pancreas produces insulin, which removes the glucose from our bloodstream. Glucose is carried to our cells for use, but any excess glucose is sent to the liver, where it is converted to glycogen. 

Glycogen serves as an energy reserve. When there is no glucose in the bloodstream, glycogen from the liver is converted back into glucose and sent back into the bloodstream to be used as energy

Types of Liver Disease

You need your liver to survive, and there are multiple problems a person might develop with their liver. For purposes of our discussion, we’ll focus on the most common types of liver disease a person might develop.

Most liver disease occurs due to progressive damage to the liver over time. Because the liver has the job of removing toxins from the blood, it’s in a vulnerable position. Over time, certain lifestyle habits and/or underlying illnesses can cause the liver to become damaged. 

Fatty Liver Disease

There are two types of fatty liver disease: non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and alcohol-related liver disease. 

Fatty liver disease is when the liver collects excess fat, damaging the liver. This can happen from the misuse of alcohol or without consumption of much alcohol in the case of NAFLD. 

Fatty liver disease that is not well managed can lead to a condition called nonalcoholic steatohepatitis, or NASH. Nash causes the liver to become inflamed and enlarged. If left untreated, NASH may then progress into cirrhosis of the liver, a condition that causes scarring of liver tissue and the possibility of liver cancer. 

Other Liver Disease

While fatty liver disease is the most common form of liver disease, there are other liver diseases that can also lead to liver cancer and/or liver failure. Autoimmune hepatitis, for instance, is a type of liver disease in which the body’s immune system incorrectly attacks liver cells. 

Hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and hepatitis C are viral infections that are transmitted differently through direct contact with blood, bodily fluids, or contaminated water. If these last longer than six months, the risk of developing liver disease and liver cancer increases. Hepatitis A and C usually go away on their own or with medication. Hepatitis B can be suppressed with antiviral drugs, and there is a vaccine available for it, but it is not curable. 

Other Diseases that Affect the Liver

Diseases of liver bile ducts can also impact liver health. Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis is a disease of the liver bile ducts, which causes scarring in the bile ducts themselves. Wilson’s disease also impacts the liver, causing an excess buildup of copper in the liver and other areas of the body. 

Signs of Liver Disease

Early detection is key to preventing liver problems from becoming more severe. Before a person ever develops fatty liver disease, they may notice signs. More often than not, however, liver problems that lead to fatty liver disease do not have any noticeable symptoms until your liver is not well. 

Early stages of fatty liver disease may include symptoms like:

  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes. This condition is called jaundice. 
  • Swelling in the abdomen and/or abdominal pain
  • Swelling in legs and ankles
  • Dark urine and/or pale stool
  • Itchy skin 
  • Fatigue
  • Nausea, vomiting, stomach upset
  • Loss of appetite and unexplained weight loss
  • Bruising easily

A person with an unhealthy liver will experience these symptoms for longer than a week. It’s also important to note that you might have just one symptom or a combination of several. You don’t need to have all the symptoms of liver disease to have a problem with your liver.

The best way to know for certain whether or not your liver is healthy is to have a blood test. Your healthcare provider can order a blood test that will reveal the health of your liver. 

What Are the Causes of Liver Disease?

Years ago, alcohol use was thought to be the primary cause of liver disease. Today, the most common causes of liver disease include drinking alcohol in excess and viral hepatitis. However, the rise in NAFLD (the type of liver disease that is not caused by alcohol use or hepatitis) opens up a new set of causes. 

NAFLD may be caused by:

  • Genetics. If you have a direct relative who has or has had fatty liver disease, you may be at higher risk of developing it, too.

  • Obesity. Having a BMI over 30 places you at a higher risk of developing chronic liver disease.

  • Metabolic disorders. These can include insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and high triglycerides.

There are other causes of NAFLD, and there are also risk factors that make a person more likely to develop liver problems. 

Risk Factors for Liver Disease

Certain lifestyle habits and health conditions make a person more susceptible to developing liver disease. 

These include:

  • Metabolic syndrome
  • Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS)
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Hypopituitarism
  • Obstructive sleep apnea

Once a person is diagnosed with NAFLD, their healthcare provider will determine how much liver damage has occurred and how to start treatment for keeping the liver as healthy as possible. In most cases, early detection means that a person can live a healthy life and even improve their liver function with lifestyle changes. 

Liver Disease Intervention

If you’ve recently discovered you have fatty liver disease, the time to take action is now. Although there is no cure for NAFLD or NASH, both can be reversed with lifestyle intervention. 

Weight Loss

The first line of defense for NAFLD is typically weight loss. Losing five to 10% of your body weight can help reduce the amount of fat on your liver and improve liver function. 

It’s important to lose weight in a healthful manner. Drastic, rapid weight loss can have a negative health impact on the liver and on the rest of your body. 

Reduce Your Alcohol Consumption

If you don’t drink much alcohol, don’t start. If you do consume alcohol, ask your doctor whether quitting completely would be beneficial for your liver health. 

Take Care of Underlying Illnesses

If you have other illnesses that are not well managed, like insulin resistance, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol, it’s imperative to take steps to control these illnesses and prevent them from progressing. Metabolic illness can also be improved with weight loss and lifestyle changes. 

Get Moving

Moving for 30 minutes per day is recommended for weight loss and maintenance and for reducing the risk of worsening metabolic symptoms and the progression of metabolic illness. 

Eat a Balanced Diet

Less processed foods, more fruits and vegetables, and limiting added sugar can all help support your efforts to improve your liver health. While you may have to avoid some types of fat, there is one type of fat that can help support your liver health. 

A Fat Fit for Your Liver

The moment we hear the term “saturated fat,” we recoil as though we are nearing a hot flame. It’s no surprise. 

For decades, we’ve been told that all fat (especially saturated fat) is bad. As it turns out, not all fat is bad. In fact, some fat is essential. A good example is omega-3 fatty acids. We know that our bodies need these to thrive. 

New research has discovered that there is another fatty acid that is essential to our bodies. Further, this newly discovered as essential fatty acid may be more essential for our health than omega-3. You may find it surprising, but it’s a saturated fat. C15:0 is an odd-chain, saturated fatty acid that our bodies need to survive but can’t make on their own. 

How It Works

C15:0 helps our bodies by targeting our cells, the very foundations of our health and wellness. C15:0 repairs cells and reverses cellular aging by restoring cellular strength and revitalizing cellular energy. 

C15:0 reverses cellular aging by:

  • Strengthening cellular membranes. C15:0 is a sturdy fatty acid that armors our cell membranes against age-related breakdown. Studies have shown that pure C15:0 improves cellular strength by 80%.
  • Clearing damaged cells. C15:0 activates AMPK, which helps to clear out damaged cells.
  • Regulating inflammatory response. C15:0 significantly calms and lowers proinflammatory cytokines, a key driver of aging. AMPK also helps calm the immune system, regulates glucose uptake, which is essential for balanced blood sugar, and supports whole-body homeostasis. 
  • Rescuing energy-generating pathways. C15:0 repairs mitochondrial function, increasing our cell’s energy output and decreasing damaging reactive oxygen species by 45%.
  • Increasing cellular energy. C15:0 has been shown to generate significant cell energy (aka ATP). In one peer-reviewed study, C15:0 was shown to increase ATP levels in cells by 350%.
  • Activating PPARɑ and PPARẟ receptors. By activating these receptors, C15:0 supports our metabolic, immune, heart, and liver health. These receptors are known as the ‘orchestrators of our metabolism’ and also help to improve mood, regulate our appetite, and deepen our sleep.

Science supports that daily supplementation with C15:0 promotes healthy glucose and cholesterol levels, as well as healthy liver, heart, and red blood cell function.

Bottom line: If you’re looking for a supplement that can bolster your liver health, C15:0 is the fatty acid for the job. There’s just one small problem: it’s only found in trace amounts in whole dairy products “in the wild.” 

That means you’d have to consume a lot of excess calories and sugar (from dairy) and additional even-chain saturated fats to increase your circulating levels of C15:0. It also means you’d have to consider consuming whole-fat dairy, which doesn’t fit with a vegan lifestyle or work for someone who has a dairy intolerance. 

A solution? Fatty15.

Elevate your cells. Elevate your self.

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Get Fatty

Fatty15 is the first and only supplement to contain the pure, vegan-friendly version of C15:0. At just one calorie per serving, it’s the best way to increase your circulating levels of C15:0 and support your liver health and overall wellness. 

Fatty15 lets you skip the cows and the calories and gives you the beneficial C15:0 that your body needs. It’s an easy lifestyle change that can support your goals to improve your liver health and add a few extra years to your health span. 


Liver Functions, Location, Anatomy and Disease | Columbia Surgery

Liver problems - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease - Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

Non-Alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease | University of Michigan Health

Efficacy of dietary odd-chain saturated fatty acid pentadecanoic acid parallels broad associated health benefits in humans: could it be essential? | Scientific Reports

A review of odd-chain fatty acid metabolism and the role of pentadecanoic Acid (c15:0) and heptadecanoic Acid (c17:0) in health and disease | PMC

Profile photo for Eric Venn-Watson

Eric Venn-Watson M.D.

Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.

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