Top 10 Sources of Protein Intake for Hepatitis C
Chronic Hepatitis C, a tenacious and menacing viral infection, directly affects the liver. The liver helps to convert everything we eat into energy and nutrients while also removing toxins and harmful substances from the bloodstream. Having chronic Hepatitis C presents some unique challenges that make conscious eating a priority. In addition to consuming whole grains, plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables – while minimizing saturated fat, processed foods, chemicals and sugar – most people with Hepatitis C must eat plenty of protein.
Why Protein Is Needed
Protein is composed of amino acids – the major building blocks the body uses to make many substances and tissues including muscles, skin, blood, antibodies, hormones and liver cells. Because chronic Hepatitis C launches a continual attack on liver cells, additional protein is essential to help the body repair and replace damaged liver cells.
When Hepatitis C infection progresses to advanced liver disease, cirrhosis may emerge. Described as the permanent hardening and shrinking of the liver, most experts believe that cirrhosis is irreversible. Cirrhotic liver tissue is non-functioning and diminishes the liver’s ability to function optimally. The fibrous tissue caused by cirrhosis prevents the liver from metabolizing and storing nutrients – including protein. Thus, cirrhosis leads to the rapid breakdown of protein, which depletes the body’s storage and increases the need for more protein.
In addition, there are two more reasons someone with cirrhosis would have a heightened protein requirement:
- Ascites – A common complication of cirrhosis, ascites is an uncomfortable condition where fluid accumulates in the abdomen. It is usually caused by elevated pressure in the veins running through the liver and a decrease in liver function caused by liver scarring. Exclusively synthesized by liver cells, serum albumin levels fall with ascites. Because protein helps maintain albumin serum levels, increased protein intake is necessary.
- Muscle Wasting – Malnutrition that leads to a decrease in muscle mass is a common problem for people with cirrhosis. Since protein breakdown is elevated and protein synthesis is decreased with cirrhosis, those affected frequently suffer from muscle wasting. Put simply, protein helps repair muscle mass.
According to Christie Hust, RD, an assistant professor of nutrition and diet at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock, “It was once thought that people with liver disease should limit proteins, but research no longer supports this.” When you have Hepatitis C, Hust says, “You need proteins to keep fluid in your blood vessels and lower your risk of fluid retention.”
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