Improving Hepatitis C Outcome for Baby Boomers
As individuals born between the years 1946 and 1964, baby boomers are currently between the ages of 46 and 64. Constituting a majority of documented Hepatitis C infections, a recent study has found that this generation is less likely to triumph over Hepatitis C than younger generations. Despite the scientific data that implies an uphill battle for baby boomers with Hepatitis C, most experts believe that there are ways to achieve a positive outcome. Healthcare practitioners have the liberty of being hopeful because they know that a myriad of strategies can effectively boost Hep C treatment success, regardless of a person’s age bracket.
Described as those who were born soon after World War II, there are an estimated 75 million baby boomers in the United States, or about 29 percent of America’s total population. It is inevitable that this large proportion of the workforce is approaching the age where health issues typically escalate. Unfortunately, boomers with Hepatitis C face an additional challenge; a new study claims that they are less responsive than younger generations to antiviral treatment.
According to a report prepared by the actuarial firm Milliman, Inc., baby boomers account for two out of every three cases of chronic Hepatitis C. Thus, a significant proportion of people with Hepatitis C are close to or over 50-years old. Based on a study published in the October 2009 edition of Journal of Viral Hepatitis, individuals with genotype 1 chronic Hepatitis C who are older than 50 have a lower rate of treatment success with pegylated interferon and ribavirin, compared to patients under age 50.
In this study, data was evaluated from over 550 patients with genotypye 1 chronic Hepatitis C taking pegylated interferon alfa-2a (Pegasys) and weight-based dosing of ribavirin for 12 months. Known as a sustained virologic response (SVR), successful treatment is assumed if a person has no detectable Hepatitis C viral load six months after the completion of therapy. Upon looking at SVR, the researchers found the following:
- 52 percent of patients aged 50 or younger achieved SVR.
- 39 percent of patients over 50 achieved SVR.
- 41 percent of patients over 50 relapsed.
- 25 percent of patients aged 50 or younger relapsed.
Even though this data shows a statistical advantage for those under age 50 in fighting Hepatitis C, the researchers also found these variables improved SVR in those over age 50:
- Lower baseline viral load
- Absence of cirrhosis
In addition, SVR rates were high among patients over 50 without liver cirrhosis who were able to maintain adequate drug dosage levels.
Based on this information, it is especially important for baby boomers with Hepatitis C to employ strategies for lowering viral load and preventing cirrhosis so they can better tolerate interferon/ribavirin therapy at full dosage. Improving the liver’s strength so that it can better fight the Hepatitis C virus and tolerate antiviral therapy can be accomplished via:
- Supplementing with high quality milk thistle – Because this herb strengthens liver cell walls, it protects the liver from increased scarring that could lead to cirrhosis.
- Boycotting alcohol – Since those over 50 have a greater chance of achieving SVR if their baseline viral load is low, alcohol must be avoided. This is because alcohol not only increases scarring of the liver, but it also fosters viral replication – which magnifies Hepatitis C viral load.
- Choosing your food carefully – Eating nutritious foods loaded with fiber, antioxidants and protein while reducing potentially harmful foods (those containing refined sugar, fat and chemicals) reduces unnecessary drag on liver function. By eliminating this burden, the liver’s health is supported.
- Exercising regularly – While exercise does not cure Hepatitis C, it does help maintain adequate circulation through the liver. By stimulating blood to flow in the liver, there is less of an opportunity for toxins to stagnate and further damage liver cells.
Even though research demonstrates that baby boomers have a lower chance of achieving SVR, those in this age bracket needn’t be discouraged. Anyone diagnosed with Hepatitis C can improve his or her chances of successfully beating the virus by taking milk thistle, eating well, exercising and avoiding alcohol. Baby boomers are particularly encouraged to employ these strategies for reducing their viral load and preventing cirrhosis so that their age will no longer hinder their chance of a successful treatment outcome.
http://www.bbhq.com/whatsabm.htm, So What’s a Boomer, Anyhow?, Retrieved December 8, 2009, Baby Boomer Headquarters, 2009.
http://www.hcvadvocate.org/news/HepC%20Baby%20Boomers%202009.html, New Report Forecasts Hepatitis C Virus Epidemic Among Baby Boomers; Untreated HCV Progressing to Severe Liver Disease Seen Driving U.S. Costs to $85 Billion, Retrieved December 8, 2009, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2009.
http://www.hivandhepatitis.com/hep_c/news/2009/120109_b.html, Hepatitis C Patients over Age 50 Are Less Likely to Achieve Sustained Treatment Response, Liz Highleyman, Retrieved December 8, 2009, hivandhepatitis.com, 2009.
http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/122279540/abstract?CRETRY=1&SRETRY=0, Peginterferon alfa-2a (40kDa) and ribavirin: comparable rates of sustained virological response in sub-sets of older and younger HCV genotype 1 patients, K. R. Reddy, et al, Retrieved December 8, 2009, Journal of Viral Hepatitis, March 2009.