Treatment of NAFLD with diet, physical activity and exercise

J Hepatol. 2017 Oct;67(4):829-846. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2017.05.016. Epub 2017 May 23.


Lifestyle intervention can be effective when treating non-alcoholic fatty liver diseases (NAFLD) patients. Weight loss decreases cardiovascular and diabetes risk and can also regress liver disease. Weight reductions of ⩾10% can induce a near universal non-alcoholic steatohepatitis resolution and fibrosis improvement by at least one stage. However, modest weight loss (>5%) can also produce important benefits on the components of the NAFLD activity score (NAS). Additionally, we need to explore the role of total calories and type of weight loss diet, micro- and macronutrients, evidence-based benefits of physical activity and exercise and finally support these modifications through established behavioural change models and techniques for long-term maintenance of lifestyle modifications. Following a Mediterranean diet can reduce liver fat even without weight loss and is the most recommended dietary pattern for NAFLD. The Mediterranean diet is characterised by reduced carbohydrate intake, especially sugars and refined carbohydrates (40% of the calories vs. 50-60% in a typical low fat diet), and increased monounsaturated and omega-3 fatty acid intake (40% of the calories as fat vs. up-to 30% in a typical low fat diet). Both TV sitting (a reliable marker of overall sedentary behaviour) and physical activity are associated with cardio-metabolic health, NAFLD and overall mortality. A 'triple hit behavioural phenotype' of: i) sedentary behaviour, ii) low physical activity, and iii) poor diet have been defined. Clinical evidence strongly supports the role of lifestyle modification as a primary therapy for the management of NAFLD and NASH. This should be accompanied by the implementation of strategies to avoid relapse and weight regain.

Keywords: Behaviour intervention; Exercise; Fibrosis; Mediterranean diet; Physical activity; Steatohepatitis; Steatosis; Weight loss.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Behavior Therapy
  • Caloric Restriction
  • Carcinoma, Hepatocellular / prevention & control
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Diet, Mediterranean*
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Life Style
  • Liver Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Micronutrients / administration & dosage
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / diet therapy*
  • Non-alcoholic Fatty Liver Disease / therapy*
  • Risk Factors
  • Risk Reduction Behavior
  • Sedentary Behavior
  • Weight Loss


  • Micronutrients