Hepatitis C Top Priority: Protect Against Liver Cancer
Chronic Hepatitis C exerts a continual level of stress on the liver. Considering that many infected with the Hepatitis C virus live with it for decades before receiving a diagnosis, this infection frequently has plenty of time to stress the liver. Thus, it is easy to understand how Hepatitis C can lead to severe liver disease, which can progress to primary liver cancer.
Scholars, physicians and researchers are eager to determine why some people with Hepatitis C develop liver cancer and others do not. As confirmed by studies in 2013 and 2016, oxidative stress is one of the principal mechanisms that cause Hepatitis C infection to evolve into liver cancer. Accordingly, preventing or reducing oxidative stress in the liver is the smartest strategy for protecting against liver cancer after a Hepatitis C diagnosis.
What Is Oxidative Stress?
Cellular oxidation occurs when oxygen, inflammation or a disease (like Hepatitis C) excessively breaks down a substance, producing free radicals. Free radicals are negatively charged electrons that are no longer attached to their atoms, creating chemical instability. This instability attracts another atom or molecule to easily bond with it, resulting in a chemical reaction that can damage cell walls, cellular structures and the cell’s genetic material. Cellular oxidation often creates a domino effect where molecules steal electrons from one another, causing each one to become a new free radical, leaving a trail of biological carnage.
Oxidative stress is the imbalance that occurs when free radicals overpower the body’s ability to counteract their harmful effects with antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize free radicals because they are electron donors – preventing free radical damage to nearby tissues. Antioxidants are unique because they can break a free radical chain reaction by sacrificing their own electrons to feed free radicals, without turning into free radicals themselves.
How Hepatitis C Can Lead to Liver Cancer
The Hepatitis C virus continually attacks liver cells, causing inflammation and cell damage. As this process intensifies, the amount of healthy, functioning liver tissue diminishes. The fewer healthy liver cells, the more toxins circulate in the blood, and the greater the chance of developing primary liver cancer.
As published in a 2013 edition of the journal Viruses, researchers confirm that the Hepatitis C virus inhibits the body’s antioxidant defense mechanisms. More specifically, researchers found:
- The liver tissue of patients with chronic Hepatitis C had an increase of reactive oxygen species (a type of free radical) concentrations by two to five orders of magnitude.
- A large proportion of chronic Hepatitis C patients had reduced levels of glutathione (a major antioxidant) and other antioxidants in their blood and liver.
As published in a 2016 edition of the Journal of Gastroenterology, researchers sought to understand the method of how Hepatitis C leads to liver cancer – the division of abnormal liver cells. They found that several major mechanisms underlie the genetic aberrations in the Hepatitis virus-infected liver that contributes to carcinogenesis. Accordingly, one of the most prominent factors in developing liver cancer is the generation of reactive oxidative stress.
It is the authors’ belief that understanding how liver cancer forms will facilitate effective treatment and preventative strategies for Hepatitis C virus-associated liver cancer.
Antioxidants for Your Liver
Giving your body the tools to neutralize harmful (and cancer-causing) free radicals is the only legitimate strategy for liver cancer prevention. The simplest approach is to consume foods rich in antioxidants. Found in fruits and vegetables rich in Vitamins C and E, selenium, carotenoids and anthocyanins, antioxidants are optimally absorbed from whole food sources. Since antioxidants are responsible for color, the more brightly colored your produce is – the more free radical-fighting power it possesses.
However, those with chronic Hepatitis C seem to have a disadvantage on the oxidative damage front. With a higher proportion of free radicals in their liver and a lower concentration of glutathione in their body, additional antioxidant power is warranted to prevent cell damage from turning into cancer.
Typically referred to as the master antioxidant, glutathione is one of the most important antioxidants in the human body. Glutathione has the unique ability of maximizing the performance of all the other antioxidants and prevents free radicals from causing damage to the most important components of the cells. Although glutathione is the only antioxidant that occurs naturally within the cells, it is also known to be low in those with chronic Hepatitis C. Unfortunately, the body poorly absorbs oral glutathione. Supplementing with N-Acetyl L-Cysteine is the best way to increase the body’s level of glutathione because it is the metabolic precursor. Since N-Acetyl L-Cysteine allows for natural conversion to glutathione, pairing this supplement with a diet rich in antioxidants is crucial for averting the development of cancer.
Although there is no human research that clearly demonstrates N-Acetyl L-Cysteine supplementation prevents cancer in those with chronic Hepatitis C, all of the evidence points to that conclusion. In the meantime, those who are at highest risk for developing primary liver cancer are encouraged to dramatically increase their antioxidant intake, via brightly colored fruit and vegetables, and antioxidant supplements like N-Acetyl L-Cysteine – to improve their odds of arresting the division of abnormal liver cell growth.
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