Thanks to high school biology — not to mention life experience! — we all know what a key role estrogen plays in our body, from prepping for reproduction to keeping bones strong, protecting the heart and maintaining healthy cholesterol. And many of us also know the effects of dropping estrogen levels as the years go by: hot flashes, mood swings, thinning hair, and weight gain.
“Estrogen controls everything from the smoothness of your skin to where your body stores fat,” explains weight-loss and nutrition expert Fred Pescatore, MD, multi-NYT bestselling author of The A-List Diet (Buy on Amazon, $13.43). “When estrogen drops, there’s no longer enough of it to steer where your fat goes — and so the fat goes where the body can most easily store it: the liver.” Indeed, researchers at the University of Vermont found that decreasing estrogen levels are associated with an 82 percent increase in fat stored in the liver and other organs.
By the age of 40, up to 90 percent of women are battling a fat-clogged liver, and postmenopausal women are developing a harmful condition called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) 60 percent faster than men of the same age, according to a recent review of studies published in the journal Endocrinology. What’s more, experts explain that since the liver is responsible for breaking down dietary fat and detoxifying the body, a buildup of fat in the liver often leads to a pileup on pounds on our waist, hips, and thighs.
The good news: Dr. Pescatore has uncovered a simple way to slash liver fat and help you drop pounds fast. His fix? A high-protein diet abundant in the amino acids that switch off the genes responsible for storing fat in the liver. Science backs him up: Researchers reporting in the journal Liver International found that eating a high-protein diet cuts liver fat in half (a low-protein diet didn’t change liver fat). Another study found that the genes responsible for liver-fat storage were less active in highprotein dieters. “Amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins, and boosting your intake of amino acids has been shown to help speed metabolism and fat burning,” explains Dr. Pescatore.
He notes that a specific type found mostly in animal-based proteins, called branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs), are the most crucial to both weight loss and eliminating liver fat. “The branched-chain amino acid leucine, for example, instructs the body to burn the deep visceral fat that collects in the liver, while valine helps remove toxins from the liver, lightening its load so it can focus on eliminating fat buildup,” he says. “The research on amino acids — especially BCAAs — is so compelling that I’ve taken to thinking of them as the missing link between health and weight loss.”
“Plus, protein simply keeps you fuller longer,” Dr. Pescatore explains — and that makes slimming feel effortless. In fact, high-protein diets have been shown to trigger an 81 percent reduction in between-meal hunger. Just ask 71-year-old Sandra Lilly, who dropped 45 pounds after switching to a protein-focused diet. “After the first week, my hunger went away. It was wonderful,” she recalls. “Plus, I could stay up late, get up early and not feel tired throughout the day. Now, I don’t feel my age. And I don’t look it!”
Weight loss is just the beginning: A high-protein diet can deliver a slew of beneficial side effects — from improved sleep to reduced brain fog, joint pain, and bloat. “My patients rave about their suddenly clear complexion and thicker hair,” adds Dr. Pescatore. “When you eat what the body prefers, which is protein and veggies, you decrease inflammation, which is the root cause of almost everything that ails us, including heart disease and diabetes. If we can eat our way into these diseases, we can eat our way out of them.”
Ready to start your whole-body transformation? Keep reading for the simple plan!
So Easy, So Effective
Consuming plenty of lean protein is the key to ridding your liver of metabolism-slowing fat and jumpstarting weight loss, assures nutrition and diet expert Fred Pescatore, M.D. “On average, I see people lose about a pound a day — and I’ve had patients lose 10 pounds in one week.” It doesn’t take long to start healing the liver, he adds, pointing to a Swedish study that found that adults with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), a condition in which a fatclogged liver slows fat burning, experienced dramatic reductions in liver fat after following a high-protein diet for two weeks. For speedy slimming and lasting results, incorporate these liver-healing strategies:
Load up on animal proteins, especially fish. While plant-based proteins aren’t off the menu, animal proteins contain all the branchedchain amino acids (BCAAs) that are the most crucial to both weight loss and eliminating liver fat. “Fish tends to be less caloric than meat, so you’ll step away from the dinner table feeling satiated even though you’ve consumed fewer calories,” says Dr. Pescatore. “Plus, the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids in fish will help your metabolism function better, stoking your weight loss even more.”
Vary your meals. When you mix up the types of proteins you eat — beef Monday night, chicken breast Tuesday and wild salmon Wednesday, for example — you get a wider variety of amino acids that crank up your metabolism and help you shed liver fat, says Dr. Pescatore. To amp up your results even more, opt for different cuts of meat — like chicken thighs one night and chicken breast another, or filet mignon one week followed by a rib-eye the next week. “Some cuts are fattier than others, which changes their amino acid profile,” he says. “Plus, some cuts are more expensive than others, and I want everyone to feel like they can follow my plan by eating any kind of protein-rich diet they want.”
Go for full-fat dairy. Doing so will boost your satiety, plus multiple studies show that dairy (regular and lactose-free) increases fat loss, thanks to its high concentration of BCAAs. Bonus: Full-fat dairy is also rich in carnitine, an unsung hero when it comes to eliminating liver fat. “Carnitine is a compound that is synthesized in the liver and acts on the energy-producing parts of each cell,” explains Dr. Pescatore. “The more carnitine that’s around, the more quickly fat gets burned. Essentially, carnitine stokes the furnace, helping your body convert fat into energy.”
Fill up on vegetables. Veggies provide all the phytochemicals that keep inflammation in check so the liver can function optimally, says Dr. Pescatore. “Cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, kale and Brussels sprouts are particularly beneficial, as they’re loaded with a natural compound called indole that helps break down liver fat,” he adds. Pro tip: Chop cruciferous veggies and allow them to sit for a few minutes before cooking them—this allows their phytochemicals to convert to forms that are more bioavailable to the body. Also smart: Load up on fruits and veggies that are rich in BCAAs, including avocado, coconut, dandelion greens, mushrooms, okra, papayas and squash.
Cut back on carbs. Filling your plate with protein and vegetables is a great way to crowd out sugar-and carb-rich foods in your diet — and that is key to preventing future fat buildup in your liver, says Dr. Pescatore. “When you eat simple carbohydrates, they make a beeline for the liver to be stored as fat,” he explains. For that reason, he advises limiting bread, pasta and other grain — or sugar-based foods.
Move outside. Getting 15 minutes of sun exposure (without sunscreen) daily can help burn off up to 50 percent of liver-fat stores, research suggests. The reason? UV light exposure prompts the skin to make vitamin D, which switches on the liver enzymes that burn trapped fats for fuel. To make your outdoor time more effective, take a walk. Studies show that a 30-minute walk three times a week burns off 39 percent of stored liver fat. Even better, add a few higher-speed “bursts.” Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic found that walkers who picked up the pace for a few minutes during their walks showed an 84 percent improvement in key markers of liver health.
It worked for me: “I got off all my prescription meds!”
This shouldn’t feel so hard, thought Rhonda Roush, becoming winded and taking a break to catch her breath on the stairs of her split-level home. Sitting there, she rationalized: It was a busy day. I’m tired. I couldn’t possibly be this out of shape.
Rhonda says, “I didn’t want to admit that I hadn’t taken care of myself.” She struggled with high blood pressure, acid reflux, and perimenopausal fatigue and bloat, and she was well aware that fat surrounding her liver and other vital organs might be impacting how her body functioned.
When Rhonda had finally had enough, she decided to quit dieting and focus on giving her body what it needed. With help from her local TOPS support group, she started eating a balanced diet and reaching for satisfying proteins. This approach allowed Rhonda to work through her cravings while enjoying foods like hard-boiled eggs, poultry, beans, nuts, and veggies.
Over time, her body transformed. “The weight came off my face and torso fastest,” she recalls. Within 8 months, Rhonda was down 50 pounds, her reflux improved and she got off all of her prescription medications.
The biggest change was in her energy. “My husband was shocked the day I came home and said, ‘I joined a boxing gym!’” She cheers, “Losing weight is possible at any age!”
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.
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