Hepatitis C (HCV), a viral liver disease that leads to the inflammation of the liver, affects about 3.9 million Americans. Hepatitis C is a condition within a class of hepatitis diseases, considered the most serious and life-threatening of them all.
While there is medical treatment available for those with hepatitis that can delay the progress of the disease, diet is an important factor in keeping the person’s immune system strong and healthy.
A diet for a person with HCV is not that much different than a diet that is recommended for anyone who wants to stay fit, strong and maintain a healthy body weight.
Here are nutrition and health guidelines for a person with hepatitis C:
1. Avoid alcohol – Because of alcohol’s known damaging effects on the liver, a person with HCV should avoid alcohol entirely.
2. Eat lots of fresh foods – A healthy diet that is comprised of mostly plant-based foods like vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts and seeds helps keep the immune system healthy and strong. While anyone is all the more wise (and healthy) to follow such a diet, for a person with HCV, taking the appropriate dietary steps to strengthen the body’s immune system may be a key factor in preventing the progression of liver damage caused by the hepatitis virus.
3. Consider milk thistle – The herb milk thistle has traditionally been used as a healing liver tonic. While current scientific studies yield mixed results in relation to milk thistle and liver health, if you are interested in taking it, talk to your medical practitioner first. Milk thistle can be taken in a capsule, tincture or extract form.
4. Maintain a healthy body weight – Since a person with hepatitis C wants to protect their liver as much as they can, they also want to maintain a healthy body weight, especially if they are prone to carrying weight in their mid-section. Being overweight is linked to a term known as “fatty liver,” where fat deposits around the liver. Having a fatty liver and being hepatitis C positive has been associated with an increased risk for cirrhosis and with a higher viral load, even for those taking antiviral treatments.
5. Avoid excess salt – Following a low-sodium diet is sound dietary advice for anyone, but for a person with any kind of a liver disease, like hepatitis C or cirrhosis, it is a mandatory part of their treatment plan. Salt causes the body to retain water and can incite conditions like extremely low pressure, blood vessel complications, edema and abdominal swelling. Physicians typically advise limiting salt intake to 4-5 grams per day (2,000 mg of sodium) or less.
For hepatitis C-sufferers who are being treated with interferon, nausea, a side effect of the medication, may inhibit the ability to eat a healthy and balanced diet. In addition, individuals with hepatitis C and cirrhosis may also lose their appetite and become too tired and lethargic to eat. In both of these cases, it is important to work with your doctor and a registered dietitian to outline an eating plan that takes into account these additional factors.