Can Diet Help Prevent Hepatitis C?
What Is Hepatitis C?
Hepatitis C is an infection that affects the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis C virus (HCV), which can only be transmitted through blood. This means there is nothing you can eat or not eat that will help prevent hepatitis C.
A 2006 study published in Hepatology did show that obese people are more likely to have a fatty liver. Interferon-based therapies, used to treat hepatitis C, are less effective in people who have a fatty liver. Switching to a low-calorie, low-fat diet could help you lose weight.
What You Should Be Eating
A diet that’s healthy for the liver includes lots of fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. You should also eat more unsaturated (vegetable) fats from sources such as olive oil, avocadoes, and nuts. These fats are healthier than saturated fats, which are more difficult for your liver to break down.
People with liver disease should limit their calorie intake. This is especially important if you are overweight. Avoid fried foods and high-fat snacks. Instead, try to eat more natural foods and fewer processed ones.
Foods to Avoid
Fatty liver is often present in people who drink excessively, are obese, or have diabetes. Avoiding alcohol and reducing the amount of fats you eat could help prevent or improve your condition. Additionally, according to a 2013 study published in Hepatology, fructose and other dietary sugars may contribute to the development of non-alcoholic fatty liver.
How Does the Hepatitis C Virus Spread?
The main form of transmission for the hepatitis C virus is through blood. Intravenous drug users are at a very high risk of contracting hepatitis C if they share needles with somebody who is infected. Healthcare workers are also at risk because they deal with blood on a daily basis.
Although the risk is very low, it is also possible to contract hepatitis C through sexual contact or by getting a piercing or a tattoo in a place with poor sanitation.
A pregnant woman with hepatitis C can potentially pass the virus to their baby, but the likelihood is low (less than five percent).
Treatment for Hepatitis C
There are a number of prescription drugs doctors can use to treat hepatitis C. In most cases, doctors opt for a combination of interferon and ribavirin. This combination kills the virus and also strengthens your body’s defenses. Treatment can last anywhere from six to 12 months.
Early treatment is important to prevent severe liver damage. People with hepatitis C can develop cirrhosis after 20 to 30 years of living with hepatitis C. Hepatitis C also increases the risk of developing liver cancer.
Hepatitis C Diet
If you have already been diagnosed with hepatitis C, you should make some changes to your diet. The American Liver Foundation recommends limiting foods that contain iron, such as red meat, egg yolks, and liver.
You should also consume less sodium. Salt-free or reduced salt products are a good place to start. You should also try to flavor your foods with herbs and spices, rather than adding large amounts of salt.
If you have already developed cirrhosis, you should also limit the amount of protein (meats) you eat, as they are more difficult for your liver to process.
Long-Term Care and Management
If you have been diagnosed with hepatitis C, you should seek the help and guidance of a hepatologist. This is a doctor who specializes in diseases of the liver. A hepatologist can provide information on the disease and help you make lifestyle changes that promote faster healing.
If you are taking any prescription medications or supplements, let your doctor know about it. Some drugs are very toxic to the liver, so you might need to switch to a different medication if you are diagnosed with hepatitis C.
What to Expect
Hepatitis C is manageable with treatment, especially if you start taking medication soon after being infected. However, lifestyle choices such as your diet, how much alcohol you drink, and your overall health can also affect the outcome.
If hepatitis C goes untreated it can lead to serious liver damage. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as 20 percent of people with hepatitis C will develop cirrhosis, a condition that causes scarring of the liver. Cirrhosis is very dangerous because it can lead to bleeding, high levels of toxins in your body, and even malnutrition. The CDC says that up to five percent of people who develop cirrhosis will die because of it.
- Charlton, M.R. et al. (2006, June). Impact of obesity on treatment of chronic hepatitis C. Hepatology, 43(6), 1177-1186. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16729327
- Diet and Your Liver. (2009). American Liver Foundation. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://www.liverfoundation.org/downloads/alf_download_729.pdf
- Guidelines for a Low Sodium Diet. (2013). University of California San Francisco Medical Center. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://www.ucsfhealth.org/education/guidelines_for_a_low_sodium_diet/
- Hepatitis C: Definition. (2013, August). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/hepatitis-c/DS00097
- Hepatitis C: Prevention. (2011, March). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/iron-deficiency-anemia/DS00323/DSECTION=prevention
- Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public (2012, October). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/c/cfaq.htm
- Hepatitis C: General Information. (2010, June). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://www.cdc.gov/hepatitis/hcv/pdfs/hepcgeneralfactsheet.pdf
- Vos, M.B. & Lavine, J.E. (2013, June). Dietary fructose in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Hepatology, 57(6), 2525-2531. Retrieved November 12, 2013, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23390127
- What is the risk of a pregnant woman passing hepatitis C to her baby? (2013, January 8). U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Retrieved November 19, 2013, from http://www.hepatitis.va.gov/patient/sex/mother-to-fetus-transmission.asp