It’s no secret that obesity has become an overwhelming American health (and beauty) issue, but having unlimited access to Big Macs is only partially to blame.The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the problem also stems from the fact that 25 percent of Americans have inactive lifestyles (moving fewer than 5,000 steps a day) and 75 percent do not meet weekly exercise recommendations (150 minutes of moderate activity each week and muscle-strengthening activity twice a week) to maintain health and weight.

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And now, new research out of the University of Missouri-Columbia claims inactivity paired with intake of high-caloric food has given rise to another epidemic: nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).While liver disease has long been associated with excess alcohol, in a new turn of events, fatty liver is happening at a rapid rate—and it can happen in people who’ve never even touched a drop of the stuff.

The disease occurs when excess fat accumulates in the liver. It contributes to insulin resistance and type 2 diabetes, and is now the most common chronic liver condition among U.S. adults. More distressingly, NAFLD progresses more rapidly in the young and is becoming a major issue among children.

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Scott Rector, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the departments of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology and Internal Medicine at MU points out, “NAFLD in its simplest form—excess fat accumulation in the absence of inflammation and liver injury—is without symptoms as it relates to pain on a physical examine.” So it can be hard to diagnose until the problem is severe.

But besides the obvious health implications, Karen Congro, R.D., a nutritionist and Director of the Wellness for Life Program at The Brooklyn Hospital Center, says there are some physical signs of a dysfunctional liver. “A congested liver can’t function to detox so toxins build up in the blood stream, leading to lackluster skin and hair, and being more prone to breakouts,” she says. “I’ve even had patients who wind up with jaundice.”

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The good news is that she claims exercise and nutritional tweaks may not only prevent, but reverse liver problems. Obviously, “walking—getting those 10,000 steps in is important because inactivity promotes inflammation which contributes to aging of the skin, and for pre-diabetes, some studies have found upper body weight training helps relieve liver issues,” says Congro.

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Additionally, for both vanity and health reasons, she recommends avoiding too much sugar and simple carbs, and concentrating on vegetable intake, probiotics (present in yogurt fortified with active cultures) fiber, green tea, and supplements like prebiotics and milk thistle.

“An easy way to get your greens is with low-sodium V-8, and I also advise my patients to add chlorophyll to their diets,” she says. Even to the vegetable adverse among us, more beautiful skin and long-term liver health kind of makes us want to pass the Brussels sprouts.

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