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Metabolic Health a Priority for Hep C Liver Transplant Recipients

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As the illness responsible for the most liver transplants in America, those with advanced Hepatitis C now have another, very good reason to institute healthful lifestyle changes.

To prevent liver disease from escalating, major lifestyle adjustments like stopping smoking, exercising regularly and eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet are always advised to those with chronic Hepatitis C. While these lifestyle practices are valuable to anyone with chronic liver disease, they are more important than ever for those with Hepatitis C who have received a liver transplant.

Hepatitis C Disease Progression

Affecting an estimated four to five million Americans, chronic Hepatitis C is a progressive liver infection. Once a liver is infected with the Hepatitis C virus, it can become increasingly damaged. A basic progression of liver disease is described below:

  1. Inflammation – As the liver tries to fight infection, it becomes inflamed, tender and enlarged.
  2. Fibrosis – Continual inflammation kills liver cells, which eventually causes fibrosis – or scarring of the liver. As excess scar tissue grows, it replaces healthy liver tissue, causing a decrease in liver function.
  3. Cirrhosis – When a liver becomes so scarred that it can no longer heal itself, a person has cirrhosis. There is currently no medically known way to reverse cirrhosis.
  4. Liver Cancer – With a liver struggling to perform its job of processing toxins, the ideal environment for cells to mutate into cancer exists.
  5. Liver Failure – Once someone’s liver has completely lost its ability to function, that person has the life-threatening condition of liver failure.

Fortunately, healthful lifestyle choices are continually lauded for their ability to slow down the progression of chronic liver disease. Some of the better known approaches for managing chronic Hepatitis C infection include eating a nutritious diet, avoiding alcohol and processed foods, protecting the liver with milk thistle and getting regular, rigorous physical activity. However, for those in the later stages of liver disease – cirrhosis, liver cancer or liver failure – a liver transplant represents the sole therapeutic option for survival. End-stage liver disease due to chronic Hepatitis C infection is the leading reason for liver transplantation in the United States.

New Research About Liver Transplant Recipients

Much to the benefit of those with advanced liver disease from Hepatitis C, liver transplants give many a second chance at life. Unfortunately, receiving a liver transplant is not without risk. Recently, a research team from Israel found that liver transplant recipients are more than twice as likely as the general population to develop metabolic syndrome.

As published in the January 2011 edition of the journal Liver Transplantation, Ido Iaish, MD and colleagues reviewed the files of over 250 liver transplant recipients. They found that before their transplant, just 5.4 percent of patients had metabolic syndrome; however, 51.9 percent were diagnosed with metabolic syndrome after their transplant. The clinical and laboratory parameters used to identify metabolic syndrome markers included obesity, hypertension, hyperglycemia and dyslipidemia.

About Metabolic Disorder

An emerging public health concern, metabolic syndrome describes a group of risk factors that occur together and increase the risk for coronary artery disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes. According to the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, metabolic syndrome is present with three or more of the following four signs:

  1. Blood pressure equal to or higher than 130/85 mmHg
  2. Fasting blood sugar equal to or higher than 100 mg/dL
  3. Large waist circumference (40 inches or more in men/35 inches or more in women)
  4. Triglycerides equal to or higher than 150 mg/dL

Even though it is becoming more and more common in the United States, researchers have not identified a single cause of metabolic syndrome. However, all of the syndrome’s risk factors seem to be related to obesity.

The primary goal of treatment for metabolic syndrome is to reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. In general, lifestyle changes and medicines are advised to help reduce blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and blood sugar. Besides required medications, recommendations typically include smoking cessation, weight loss, exercise and nutritional approaches for lowering blood pressure and cholesterol.

Knowing that Hepatitis C is the leading reason for liver transplants, that metabolic disorder sets the stage for a variety of major health problems and that liver transplant recipients are particularly prone to metabolic disorder, there is even more reason to initiate crucial lifestyle changes. In order for those with a new liver to protect themselves against heart disease, diabetes and stroke, they must make metabolic health their top priority.

References:, Metabolic Syndrome, Retrieved January 23, 2011, Google, 2011., Hepatitis C and Liver Transplantation, Thomas Shaw-Stiffel, MD, Retrieved January 23, 2011, Hepatitis C Support Project, 2011., Perspective on the Progression of Hepatitis C, Nicole Cutler, L.Ac., Retrieved January 23, 2011, Natural Wellness, 2011., Metabolic Syndrome Increased in Liver Transplant Recipients, Retrieved January 23, 2011, Advanstar Communications, Inc., 2011., Metabolic syndrome in liver transplant recipients: Prevalence, risk factors, and association with cardiovascular events, Laish I, et al, Retrieved January 23, 2011, Liver Transplantation, January 2011.

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