The key to treating acute hepatic porphyria (AHP), and preventing complications, is symptom management. While there’s no cure for AHP, lifestyle changes can help you manage your symptoms. This includes being mindful of your body’s main source of energy: food.
Learn more about the dietary changes you can make to help manage AHP. Also, talk to your doctor if you have any food allergies, sensitivities, or other dietary considerations.
Balance your macronutrients
Macronutrients are your body’s main source of energy. These include carbohydrates, protein, and fat. People with AHP need to be careful they don’t eat too much protein. Too much protein can interfere with heme production and lead to attacks. You’ll need to be especially careful with your protein intake if you have kidney problems.
The following macronutrient distributions are recommended per day:
- carbohydrates: 55 to 60 percent
- fats: 30 percent
- protein: 10 to 15 percent
Avoid high-fiber diets
A high-fiber diet may increase the requirements for calcium, iron ,and trace minerals. Too much fiber can also exacerbate abdominal pain related to AHP. Up to 40 grams of fiber are recommended per day, and no more than 50 grams.
If you think you need more fiber in your diet, talk to your doctor.
Don’t drink alcohol
Alcohol is generally considered off-limits for people with AHP. Even if your drink moderately, alcohol’s effects on the heme pathways to the liver can exacerbate your condition. Alcohol can also cause other effects unrelated to AHP. These include:
- weight gain
- mental health changes
- dry skin
Some people who drink alcohol don’t experience worsening symptoms with AHP. If you’re wondering if you can safely drink alcohol, talk to your doctor.
Avoid chemicals and processed foods
Chemicals, additives, and dyes are abundant in processed foods. These compounds may lead to worsening AHP symptoms. Instead of eating from a box or a fast food restaurant, eat home-cooked meals as often as you can. Whole foods provide your body with the energy you need without worsening your AHP symptoms. If you’re too tired to cook every day, try making large meals in batches for leftovers.
Certain cooking methods for meat can create problems for AHP. According to the Porphyria Foundation, charcoal-broiling meats can create chemicals similar to cigarette fumes. You don’t have to avoid charcoal broiling entirely, but you should consider cooking this way in moderation.
Avoid fasting and other fad diets
Fad diets can be tempting to try. But fasting, yo-yo dieting, and restrictive eating plans can all make your AHP symptoms worse. Also, drastically cutting down on the amount of food you eat reduces your heme levels and depletes oxygen from your red blood cells. This can lead to an AHP attack. Low-carbohydrate diets can also be problematic for people with AHP.
If you need to lose weight, talk to your doctor about a plan to help you lose weight gradually. A reasonable plan includes gradual calorie reduction and exercise to achieve 1 to 2 pound deficits per week. Losing more than this puts you at risk for an AHP attack. You’ll also be more likely to gain weight once you stop dieting.
Be wary of special AHP diets
A quick internet search will reveal a “special diet” for almost any condition, and AHP is no exception. Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as an AHP-specific diet. Instead focus on eating a balanced diet with lots of fresh produce, moderate amounts of protein, and complex carbohydrates.
Keep a food journal
Keeping a food journal is often used for weight loss. This strategy can also help you determine if any foods are exacerbating your AHP symptoms. For example, if you eat a protein-heavy meal and notice increased pain and fatigue shortly after, you should make note of this to discuss with your doctor. A food journal can help reveal patterns in diet and symptom associations that you might not otherwise be able to pinpoint.
If you don’t want to keep a traditional paper journal, consider an app instead. One example is MyFitnessPal, which allows you to keep a detailed food journal for every meal of the day. No matter how you track, consistency is the key.
Consider healthy eating as a lifelong habit
Healthy eating does more than help manage your AHP symptoms. Think about the positive aspects of a healthy diet in addition to how it can help prevent AHP attacks. If you maintain a healthy diet, you’ll have more energy, sleep better, and possibly even reduce your risk for chronic illnesses like heart disease.
Maintaining a healthy diet is an important part of managing AHP. Talk to your doctor about how you can implement dietary changes, and if you have any special dietary considerations. They can help you plan a balanced diet that will work with your health and lifestyle.