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Food Coma’s Impact on Those Battling Hepatitis C

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. November 28, 2012

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It is possible to enjoy a holiday feast without the resulting food coma and accompanying liver aggravation that can be harmful with Hepatitis C.

A Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year or other holiday meal is frequently full of indulging in delicious culinary creations and spending time with family and friends. However, those of us who fully embrace the memory of such feasts also recall the exhaustion and feelings of paralysis that typically follows such a meal. Known widely as food coma, the mental and physical fatigue after eating a tremendous amount of food is a well-known and accepted result to holiday gatherings. Although the food coma is a natural consequence of a big meal, it doesn’t do the liver of someone with Hepatitis C any favors. Alternatively, practice the four strategies listed below to minimize food coma throughout the holiday season – and minimize any effects on your liver’s health.

Food Coma

Technically known as postprandial somnolence, food coma is drowsiness after a large meal. The fatigue is typically a combination of physically feeling sleepy and sluggish while mentally feeling lethargic and dull. Scientists have several different theories to explain postprandial syndrome, but the most likely culprit revolves around insulin and amino acids in the following cascade of events.

  1. Heavy meals typically contain foods high on the glycemic index (bread, stuffing, potatoes, pie) that cause a rapid rush of glucose into the bloodstream.
  2. Insulin is then released into the blood to utilize the glucose and maintain blood sugar constancy.
  3. The insulin also simulates absorption of amino acids like leucine, tyrosine and valine.
  4. Insulin does not affect tryptophan.
  5. The resulting levels of tryptophan in the blood after a large meal remain extremely high relative to the other amino acids, so the brain absorbs more of it.
  6. Excessive tryptophan gets synthesized into serotonin, inducing sleepiness.

Although tryptophan is an amino acid that can induce sleepiness, turkey does not contain particularly high concentrations of it. Contrary to popular belief, consuming turkey is not the reason a person gets sleepy after eating, but rather the absorption of the other amino acids stimulated by insulin.

High Fat Meal’s Impact on Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C is a virus that primarily infects the liver, but few of us appreciate the role the liver has in so many vital functions. Some assume that overeating simply stretches the stomach. However, digesting a large meal is much more complex. Fat and sugar metabolism intimately tie unwanted liver consequences with overeating.

Even in healthy people, eating a fatty meal can impair the proper functioning of cells that line the blood vessels, potentially making them more susceptible to atherosclerosis. While atherosclerosis is typically associated with an increased risk of heart disease, it can also exacerbate advanced liver disease – like chronic Hepatitis C.

Gerald Shulman, a professor of medicine and cellular and molecular physiology at Yale University, and his team help explain how the liver is burdened by a large meal filled with fats, carbohydrates and sugars – especially when someone has insulin resistance. Besides being a precursor to diabetes, insulin resistance is proving to be a problem for many people with chronic Hepatitis C. Insulin resistance is when the body uses insulin less effectively than normal causing elevated sugar and fat levels in the blood.

Shulman and his team found that insulin resistance begins in muscle. If the sugar isn’t used by the muscle, it goes to the liver where it is converted to fat, which is why triglycerides increase in the blood. Unfortunately, fat accumulation in the liver fans the flames of Hepatitis C infection, setting the liver up for inflammation and possible liver cell injury.

Strategies to Minimize Food Coma

Ducking out of all holiday culinary celebrations may prevent postprandial somnolence and deter against its extra burden on the liver; but most don’t consider this to be a reasonable solution. Instead consider these suggestions:

  1. Strategize to Eat a Smaller Meal – Skipping breakfast and lunch will help you build a big appetite for your favorite holiday feast, but it is not a good strategy to prevent overeating. In fact, an opposite approach is much more liver friendly. A breakfast and lunch with healthful, filling fiber and protein will help to reduce the tendency to overindulge later.
  2. Choose Your Food – Besides preventing yourself from overeating, try to avoid foods with a high glycemic index. Common foods with a high glycemic index that might be found at a holiday feast include sweet potato casserole, mashed potatoes, baked potatoes, stuffing, garlic bread, pasta, lasagna, corn bread, rice, corn, chips, pretzels, French bread, cake and pie.
  3. Move it After– An effective way to keep your energy level up after eating is to move. Help with the dishes, sweep the floor, stretch, take out the trash, go for a walk, play a game of ping-pong or get moving with a physically demanding video game program. Staying active will help prevent postprandial somnolence by utilizing glucose in the muscles.
  4. Exercise Before – Recent studies suggest that exercising 12 or more hours before a big meal can prevent one of the most damaging effects – the post-meal spike in triglycerides. According to research led by Peter Grandjean, director for the Center for Healthy Living at Baylor University in Waco, Texas, light exercise like a slow walk, done continuously for 30 minutes or more, appears to reduce the peak in triglycerides that occurs after eating a meal some 12 to 16 hours later.

The food coma that typically follows an eating extravaganza is common during the holidays, but it’s not ideal for liver, heart, metabolic or blood vessel health. Especially when managing an illness like chronic Hepatitis C, consider strategies to prevent postprandial somnolence like eating a healthful, filling breakfast and exercising for at least half an hour in the morning, avoiding starchy, sugary foods and keeping active after your feast. Not only will you feel more physically and mentally energetic, but your liver will also benefit from these wise, holiday season practices.

References:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204517204577046772508688922.html, Countdown to a Food Coma, Christina Tsuei and Shirley S. Wang, Retrieved November 19, 2012, Dow Jones& Company, Inc., 2012.

http://suite101.com/article/food-coma-medical-truths-behind-the-fatigue-a175338, Food Coma – Medical Truths Behind the Fatigue, Jason Parent, Retrieved November 19, 2012, suite101.com, 2012.

http://www.divinecaroline.com/22175/88191-price-pigging-out-stop-food, The Price of Pigging Out: Can you Stop a Food Coma?, Allison Ford, Retrieved November 19, 2012, Meredith Corporation, 2012.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/24/food-coma-dont-blame-the-turkey_n_1111258.html, Thanksgiving Food Coma? Don’t Blame The Turkey!, Retrieved November 19, 2012, TheHuffingtonPost.com, Inc., 2012.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21252203, Insulin resistance and Hepatitis C: An evolving Story, Eslam M, et al, Retrieved November 25, 2012, Gut, August 2011.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMH0004546/, Metabolic Syndrome, Retrieved November 25, 2012, A.D.A.M., Inc, 2012.

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