3 Healthy Lifestyle Choices to Make Now
The number of people affected by Hepatitis C continues to grow. Unfortunately, the medicines used to treat this virus have not yet been able to defeat it. As of 2008, the current standard of treatment for the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), pegylated interferon and ribavirin, remains effective for approximately only half of all cases. Although pegylated interferon and ribavirin can’t help millions of people get rid of this virus, Hepatitis C doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Even though those living with chronic HCV are at a high risk of developing liver cirrhosis and/or liver cancer, eliminating three vices can prevent a worsening of liver health.
Understanding Liver Inflammation
Living with chronic HCV means constantly battling liver inflammation. If this inflammation rages unabatedly, it causes liver disease to progress. The progressive cascade of Hepatitis C and liver inflammation is as follows:
- HCV results in the death of liver cells.
- The death of liver cells triggers the dispatching of inflammatory cells to the affected area. Inflammation begins the processes that lead to fibrosis, the body’s response to liver damage.
- Inflammation triggers a reaction by a group of cells in the liver called stellate cells.
- Infected and inflamed liver cells release chemical signals (called cytokines), which activate leukocytes (white blood cells) from outside the liver to travel to the affected area.
- The cytokines and leukocytes team up with Kupffer cells to signal the stellate cells to produce and lay down collagen fibers between liver cells. A fibrous protein that forms scar tissue, collagen is the body’s attempt to limit the spread of infection to other cells.
- Normally, as an infection or injury resolves, the collagen matrix enclosing the injury is dissolved and activated stellate cells die off, allowing the tissue to return to normal. In chronic HCV, this matrix of collagen grows more rapidly than it can dissolve.
- The collagen builds up scar tissue around cells causing living liver cells to lose their access to the nutrient and oxygen rich blood flow.
- The restricted access to blood causes even more quarantined liver cells to die. As such, HCV progressively scars the liver.
This vicious cycle of inflammation causing scar tissue must be stopped to prevent a person’s chronic HCV from causing more and more liver damage.
According to Norah Terrault, MD, MPH, from the University of California, San Francisco, “Hepatitis C is a major public health concern and the number of patients developing complications of chronic disease is on the rise. It is essential that we identify risk factors that can be modified to prevent and/or lessen the progression of HCV to fibrosis, cirrhosis and even liver cancer. These complications of chronic HCV infection will significantly contribute to the overall burden of liver disease in the U.S. and will continue to increase in the next decade.”
By eliminating three unhealthful habits, people with HCV can single-handedly reduce the inflammation their liver must contend with. Although any toxin puts a greater strain on liver function, the following directly contribute to heightened inflammation with HCV:
- Alcohol – There are many reasons why eliminating alcohol is imperative for living long with Hepatitis C. Researchers have demonstrated that alcohol promotes proliferation of Hepatitis C in human liver cells. Researchers at the Children’s Hospital in Philadelphia found that alcohol increases the activity of a protein called nuclear factor kappa B, which causes HCV to replicate. Aside from the cycle of inflammation that occurs with Hepatitis C, alcohol consumption on its own increases cytokine levels. Additionally, metabolized alcohol is believed to activate stellate cells directly. All of the chemical processes that occur when a person drinks alcohol exponentially worsen the damage that HCV does to the liver.
- Marijuana – According to a study published in Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, patients with HCV should not use marijuana (cannabis) daily. The researchers led by Terrault found that HCV patients who used cannabis daily were at significantly higher risk of moderate to severe liver fibrosis, or tissue scarring. Additionally, patients with moderate to heavy alcohol use combined with regular cannabis use experienced an even greater risk of liver fibrosis.
- Fatty Food – Despite campaigns claiming that eliminating saturated fat from the diet preserves heart health, hepatologists agree that it also preserves liver health. Research from 2007 demonstrated that a high fat diet kills regulatory T cells in the liver. Less of these specialized immune cells allow a fatty liver to worsen to steatohepatitis, fatty liver with inflammation. This likely occurs because regulatory T cell death is associated with increased inflammatory cytokine production.
Although removing these three vices from one’s life may be a monumental life change for someone, it can also save their liver. The increase in inflammation that drinking alcohol, smoking marijuana and eating saturated fat can cause allows a liver with HCV to spiral into advanced liver disease. By abandoning these three unhealthful habits, the liver gets a respite from the inflammation cycle – perhaps enough for the body to break down some of the collagen matrix that contributes to the continuation of liver cell death.
http://familydoctor.org, Hepatitis C, American Academy of Family Physicians, 2008.
http://pubs.niaaa.nih.gov, Alcohol and the Liver, National Institute for Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 2008.
www.cdc.gov, Hepatitis C Fact Sheet, US Department of Health and Human Services, 2008.
www.hepctrust.org.uk, Liver damage and fibrosis during the chronic stage, Hepatitis C Trust, 2008.
www.medicalnewstoday.com, How Alcohol Use May Worsen Hepatitis C Infection, John Ascenzi, MediLexicon International, Ltd., 2007.
www.medicalnewstoday.com, Risk Of Hepatitis C-Related Liver Damage Increased By Regular Marijuana Use, MediLexicon International Ltd., 2008.
www.sciencedaily.com, High-fat Diet Makes Mice Susceptible To Liver Injury, ScienceDaily LLC 2008.
www.who.int, Hepatitis C, World Health Organization, 2008.
New, Interactive Internet Program Answers Hepatitis C Questions
Taribavirin Showing Lower Anemia Rates than Ribavirin