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Hepatitis C Is a Risk Factor for Heart Disease

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. February 2, 2010

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February is American Heart Month. Since Hepatitis C has been proven to be a risk factor for coronary artery disease, the usual ways to reduce heart disease risk is insufficient for those with the virus. However, there are five strategies specifically for Hepatitis C that can reduce the likelihood of impending cardiac problems.

Besides the damage it can do to the liver, Hepatitis C also jeopardizes the heart’s health. Since cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of mortality in the U.S., people are increasingly taking steps to address heart disease’s primary risk factors. Through efforts unifying medications and lifestyle changes, many have successfully tempered the two biggest indicators of future cardiac problems: blood pressure and blood fat levels. Unfortunately, these measures are likely not enough to protect the heart of someone with Hepatitis C.

Lowering blood pressure and improving the ratio of fat in the blood is sufficient for many wishing to protect their heart from harm. Although a healthy blood pressure and lipid profile is crucial for optimal wellness, these factors are likely not responsible for the high incidence of cardiovascular disease in individuals with Hepatitis C. In fact, those with Hepatitis C appear to have a unique risk for developing cardiovascular disease requiring them to take extra steps toward cardiac protection.

The Recent Study

Although clinicians have reported a higher than usual incidence of heart disease in their patients with Hepatitis C, the association between these two health conditions has been poorly understood. However, new information helps us better realize why these problems commonly coexist.

Published in the July 15, 2009 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases, researchers from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania conducted a large-scale study to evaluate the relationship between Hepatitis C and coronary artery disease. Involving over 160,000 individuals receiving care at Veterans Affairs health facilities, approximately half of whom were infected with Hepatitis C, the researchers found the following:

  • Study participants without Hepatitis C were more likely to have high blood pressure (50 percent) than those with the virus (42 percent).
  • Study participants without Hepatitis C were more likely to have hyperlipidemia (72 percent) than those with Hepatitis C (39 percent).
  • On average, study participants without Hepatitis C had higher blood plasma cholesterol (198 mg/dL) than those with Hepatitis C (175 mg/dL).
  • On average, study participants without Hepatitis C had higher LDL cholesterol – “the bad cholesterol” (119 mg/dL) – than those with Hepatitis C (102 mg/dL).
  • On average, study participants without Hepatitis C had higher triglycerides (179 mg/dL) than those with Hepatitis C (144 mg/dL).

Even though the traditional heart health indicators of blood pressure, plasma cholesterol, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides favored the Hepatitis C patients, the researchers found that having Hepatitis C was associated with an approximately 25 percent higher risk of coronary artery disease. The researchers suggested that this elevated cardiovascular risk could be due to increased inflammation, immune activation and blood clotting in people with Hepatitis C.

Reducing Hepatitis C Cardiac Risks

While maintaining a healthy blood pressure and blood fat ratio is crucial for preventing heart disease, the research described above demonstrates that those with Hepatitis C have more work to do. Since scientists believe that events associated with flaring of the virus (inflammation, immune activation and increased blood clotting) are also responsible for increasing cardiovascular risk. Thus, all attempts should be made to minimize Hepatitis C viral load. Such efforts may include:

  1. Abstaining from alcohol (alcohol causes the virus to flare-up)
  2. Battling the illness with antiviral combination therapy (approximately half of those infected can conquer the virus)
  3. Keeping cells healthy with antioxidants (like NAC and/or Alpha R-Lipoic Acid)
  4. Supplementing with milk thistle to protect the liver from viral replication
  5. Taking Nattokinase to dissolve dangerous blood clots

Many are discouraged upon learning that it may not be enough to keep your blood pressure within normal limits and your blood lipids balanced to avoid cardiovascular disease. However, there are ways to control your health instead of letting Hepatitis C dictate your heart’s future. First, following your physician’s suggestions to reduce the risk of coronary artery disease is an important component to longevity. In addition, making choices to inhibit the Hepatitis C virus will benefit both your liver and your heart.

References:

http://www.aidsmap.com/en/news/FEE39D43-0C66-4EA4-8DC1-0ED557146A6D.asp, Hepatitis C increases risk of cardiovascular disease, Michael Carter, Retrieved July 26, 2009, aidsmap, June 2009.

http://www.hivandhepatitis.com/hiv_hcv_co_inf/2009/071009_a.html, Hepatitis C Raises Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Liz Highleyman, Retrieved July 25, 2009, hivandhepatitis.com, 2009.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18957787?ordinalpos=3&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum, Hepatitis C infection is associated with increased coronary artery atherosclerosis defined by modified Reardon severity score system, Alyan O, et al, Retrieved July 25, 2009,
Circulation Journal, December 2008.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19508169?ordinalpos=2&itool=EntrezSystem2.PEntrez.Pubmed.Pubmed_ResultsPanel.Pubmed_DefaultReportPanel.Pubmed_RVDocSum, Hepatitis C virus infection and the risk of coronary disease, Butt AA, et al, Retrieved July 25, 2009, Clinical Infectious Diseases, July 2009.

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