Hepatitis C Management—Nutrition
Hepatitis C can be a difficult disease to manage. Lifestyle plays an integral part in disease management and treatment. Healthy diet, moderate exercise, and stress reduction are all critical in maintaining good health.
It is important to find a doctor who is both knowledgeable about and sympathetic to people with hepatitis C. Many physicians are not fully educated about HCV infection, and you may have to educate both conventional and alternative practitioners. If you have a family doctor, you may want to quiz him or her on knowledge about hepatitis C. If you are not comfortable with your doctor, look for a new one; ask family or friends for recommendations. Once your HCV diagnosis has been confirmed, your family doctor or general practitioner should send you to a specialist. Generally, you will be referred to a gastroenterologist (digestive disease specialist) or a hepatologist (liver disease specialist).
There is not a specific diet recommended for people with hepatitis C, but the following information is sound nutritional advice. Since the liver processes and detoxifies everything you eat and drink, a healthy, well-balanced diet is helpful. A diet that follows the general guidelines for nutritional health based on the USDA Food Guidance System (www.choosemyplate.gov) is generally recommended. Such a diet is low in fat and sodium, high in complex carbohydrates, and has adequate protein.
A good diet is an important part of hepatitis C management, helping to maintain overall health and prevent obesity-related conditions, which have been linked to faster liver disease progression and poorer response to HCV therapy. Although severe protein-restricted diets are no longer generally recommended for people with liver disease, it is important to avoid certain foods that may have an impact on the liver’s processing and detoxification work. Processed foods often contain chemical additives, so reduce your consumption of canned, frozen, and other preserved foods. Eating organic fruits and vegetables can help you avoid the pesticides and fertilizers used to grow non-organic produce. Read all labels to acquaint yourself with the ingredients.
Protein derived from poultry, fish, and vegetable sources may be most beneficial. There is no reason to restrict protein, even if you have cirrhosis. Discuss adequate protein intake with your provider if you have cirrhosis. It is recommended that people with any type of liver disease should not eat raw or undercooked shellfish (even if they are already immune to hepatitis A). Some experts advise people with HCV to avoid foods high in fat, salt, or sugar. Caffeine is a chemical that must be processed by the liver, and it is advisable to consume coffee, tea and soda in moderation.
A well-balanced diet should contain all of the essential vitamins and minerals you need, but talk with your doctor about whether you should take extra vitamins. It is generally recommended that people with hepatitis C take a daily multiple vitamin supplement that satisfies 100% of daily requirements, but without iron.
Taking megavitamin supplements may be harmful. Many people with hepatitis C have low levels of fat soluble vitamins (vitamins A, D, E & K)—ask your medical provider to test these vitamins. Additionally, many patients with cirrhosis have low levels of vitamin A, vitamin D, zinc, and magnesium. If you do not have cirrhosis, avoid taking high doses of vitamins A and D; vitamin A, in particular, can be very toxic to the liver unless taken under the supervision of a medical provider. People with hepatitis C are also generally advised not to take iron supplements unless directed to do so by a knowledgeable medical practitioner.
Inform your medical providers about any vitamins, minerals, supplements, or herbs you are taking, and talk with them about any new products that you are considering. Do not start any unconventional diet without medical advice. In addition to talking with your regular providers, you may wish to consult a licensed nutritionist or dietitian for individual dietary recommendations.