Having some fat in the liver is normal, but when fat accounts for more than five percent of the organ's weight, it becomes dangerous.
Alcoholism has long been the best-known cause of fatty liver, but most cases are considered a metabolic problem - an issue with the way the body processes and stores food. In non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) the problem starts with the buildup of excess fats. The liver normally breaks down fats into smaller pieces, which are then transported and stored in white adipose tissue in the cheeks, gut and thighs.
Once those reservoirs fill, excess fat, or sugars turned into fat, collect in the muscles, heart and liver, and develop into the first stage of NAFLD, called steatosis - excess fat in the liver. When the liver cells balloon with fat, it turns the liver yellow, greasy and toxic.
NAFLD is a silent epidemic, effecting millions of Americans and imposing significant financial burden on the U.S. healthcare system. The American Liver Foundation estimates that about 100 million Americans have NAFLD.