Nutritional Remedies for Hepatitis C
Hepatitis C is a viral disease that affects the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis C virus, which may be transmitted through blood transfusions from an infected donor, undergoing repeated hemodialysis, sharing hypodermal needles, or getting tattoos using needles that have infected blood. Healthcare workers and newborn babies of infected mothers may also be affected. In the United States, hepatitis C is the most common infection that is transmitted through the blood. It affects more than three million people in the U.S. and about 170 million people around the world.
Acute infection with hepatitis C may cause mild symptoms or none at all. However, some people develop symptoms such as tiredness, joint pains, abdominal pain, sore muscles, itchy skin, dark urine, and yellowing of the skin and eyes. Chronic infection may cause very little symptoms at the start, but after many years, the liver may be damaged, leading to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver cancer, and ultimately, liver failure and death. However, some people have hepatitis C and live long without knowing it. They may find out they have it from a blood exam during a routine check-up or when they decide to donate blood.
Treatment of Hepatitis C
Conventional treatment for hepatitis C includes interferons, ribavirin, and a protease inhibitor such as boceprevir or telaprevir. These medicines are used for six months to one year, to help the body get rid of the virus. Side effects of interferon and ribavirin include flu-like symptoms, fatigue, skin rash, anemia, nausea, diarrhea, mild anxiety, and depression.
The latest treatment of hepatitis C consists of a pill called Harvoni, which is taken once-daily and cures most people in 8 to12 weeks. It consists of a combination of two drugs called sofosbuvir and ledipasvir. The most common side effects are headache and fatigue. Some doctors also recommend combining sofosbuvir with simeprevir, interferon injections, and/or ribavirin (in liquid, capsule, or tablet form).
Aside from medical therapy, it is important for patients with hepatitis C to take control of their health. The disease affects the liver, a major organ with many functions, which include detoxification, metabolizing nutrients and drugs, and filtering blood. One must therefore take action to protect their liver from more harm.
Diet, exercise, rest and lifestyle modification are important for people with hepatitis C, as well as other liver diseases. Fatigue, weakness, and loss of appetite are some symptoms that affect people with liver disease, but these may improve with simple self-care measures and remedies.
- Eat healthy carbs. Instead of choosing white rice, pasta or bread, eat whole-grain breads, whole-wheat pasta, high-fiber cereal and brown rice.
- Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables. Experts recommend consuming three to five servings of vegetables and two to four servings of fruits daily.
- Eat protein-rich foods to promote tissue repair and replace tissue damage. Choose from a variety of protein sources, including poultry, fish, lean meat, beans, eggs, milk, yogurt, cheese, nuts, and seeds.
- Reduce your fat and sugar intake. Avoid eating foods that are high in saturated fats and simple sugars, which contain high calories but are low in nutritional value. Avoid junk foods and processed foods.
- Limit your intake of sodium (salt), which is harmful to people with liver disease. While the average person consumes 3,000 to 5,000 mg of sodium daily, people with hepatitis C should consume less than 2,000 mg per day, and only 1,500 to 1,800 mg for those who have cirrhosis.
- Drink plenty of fluids to avoid dehydration, except in advanced liver disease.
- Avoid alcohol intake. Alcohol is metabolized in the liver, and in liver disease, it can put a strain on its metabolic function.
- Experts recommend eating small, frequent meals and snacks rather than taking three large meals. People who find it difficult to eat can take liquid nutritional supplements or meal replacements (such as Ensure, Advera, or Sustacal).
- Be careful about taking over-the-counter medicines such as painkillers and cold remedies that contain aspirin and acetaminophen, which can be toxic to the liver.
- Consult your doctor about taking health supplements, because some of these may be toxic to the liver. Multivitamins and minerals may improve nutritional deficiencies, but in people with advanced liver disease, taking a lot of fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A,D, E, and K) may be harmful to health.
- Some people take herbal supplements for liver disease, such as milk thistle, licorice root, ginseng, ginger and St. John’s Wort. However, some herbal supplement may be harmful to the liver. Some of these include: Atractylis gummifera, Artemisia, Bush tea, Chaparral leaf, Callilepis laureola, Comfrey, Crotalaria, Germander, Kava, Kombucha, Ma huang (Ephedra), Mistletoe, Senna, Skullcap, and Valerian root.
- Losing excess body weight through proper diet and regular exercise is also helpful to liver health. Experts recommend doing regular moderate-intensity exercise on most days of the week.
This information should not take the place of medical advice. We encourage you to talk to your health care providers (doctor, registered dietitian, pharmacist, etc.) about your interest in, questions about, or use of dietary supplements and what may be best for your overall health.
WebMD. Hepatitis C. http://www.webmd.com/hepatitis/hepc-guide/hepatitis-c-topic-overview
HCV Advocate. Nutrition and Hepatitis C. http://hcvadvocate.org/hepatitis/factsheets_pdf/Nutrition_FS.pdf
WebMD. Hepatitis C: Diet and Exercise. http://www.webmd.com/hepatitis/hepc-guide/c-diet-exercise
Hepmag. Hepatitis C: The Basics.http://www.hepmag.com/articles/2512_11280.shtml
HepCNet. Nutrition and HepC. http://www.hepcnet.net/nutritionandhepc.html