Liver disease is serious and requires treatment and regular monitoring by a liver specialist. A liver specialist is known as a hepatologist and you need to be referred by your family doctor or general practitioner. Over nearly 40 years of practicing medicine I have seen many patients develop severe liver disease, which sadly could have been prevented by early detection and early referral to a hepatologist. There needs to be more awareness of liver disease so that patients can be treated early so that we can prevent cirrhosis, liver failure and liver cancer. Make sure you have your liver function checked annually with a blood test.
I have presented my ideas on how to help those with liver diseases using nutritional medicine, which I have been using for many years with good success rates. However my recommendations do not replace the care of your own doctor and you should remain under the care of your own doctor whilst using nutritional therapies.
If you have any questions you may contact my naturopaths on 623 3343232 or email us at [email protected]
Hepatitis is a general term used to describe inflammation of the liver. This means that there are too many inflammatory chemicals being produced in the liver, which damages the liver cells (hepatocytes). Your doctor will be able to diagnose hepatitis, even of a mild degree, by doing a blood test to check the level of liver enzymes. If the liver enzymes are elevated this means you have some degree of liver inflammation occurring.
This is a common viral infection of the liver and worldwide there are estimated to be over 350 million carriers.
How is Hepatitis B spread?
The hepatitis B virus can be transmitted between humans by blood or sexual secretions. Good hygiene is imperative in reducing the spread of this virus because it can enter the body in many ways – through sexual contact, sores and cuts in the skin, body contact sports, sharing infected needles, razor blades and toothbrushes. Do not share these items, wash your hands regularly with hot water and soap, and cover open wounds in the skin. Hepatitis B virus can also be transmitted where improperly sterilized equipment is used for tattooing, ear piercing and acupuncture. The hepatitis B virus can survive outside the body for long periods of time.
Hepatitis B is the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the world. The use of condoms with new sexual partners will protect you.
General social contact in the work place and the community will not transmit the hepatitis B virus. It is not generally spread by food, sweat, tears, coughing, sneezing or kissing. The virus is killed by disinfectants (including bleach) and boiling water, which is why good hygiene is so important in the prevention of this infection.
What are the symptoms of Hepatitis B infection?
After initial contact with the virus symptoms take on average, around 60 to 90 days to develop. Adults will develop symptoms that vary in severity from mild to severe, and include yellow discoloration of the skin and eyes (jaundice), loss of appetite and nausea, abdominal pains, fatigue, fever and joint pains. Although these unpleasant symptoms may last for many weeks to months, in adults recovery without any long-term effects is the usual outcome. Those who make a recovery have a good immune system, which eradicates the virus for life.
In a small percentage of people the virus remains in the body long- term and is infectious to others. These people are known as carriers. This chronic form of hepatitis B may silently damage the liver as the years go by, and a significant percentage of chronic carriers will develop liver cancer or cirrhosis. This is particularly so if the carrier has a poor diet and unhealthy lifestyle which compromises the immune system. Those carriers who are positive for the “e antigen” of hepatitis B are more likely to develop liver disease.
Infants infected by their mothers at birth may not suffer a serious illness initially; however they have the highest risk of becoming long-term carriers.
Prevention of hepatitis B
Since 1983 a vaccine against hepatitis B has been available and vaccination is a good idea for those who are at a high risk of catching hepatitis B.
High risk people are health care workers, hemodialysis patients, homosexual men, injecting drug users, prostitutes, the sexually promiscuous, infants and children of immigrants from disease-endemic areas, infants born to infected mothers and sexual contacts of infected persons. Because hepatitis B is such a widespread infection it is recommended that infants are routinely vaccinated against this virus.
A hepatitis B immunoglobulin injection is also available to reduce the risk of infection in those people who know they may have just contacted the virus (after needle stick injury or contamination with infected blood etc.) This immunoglobulin injection should be given as soon as possible (within 24 hours) after the exposure.
Drug Treatment for Hepatitis B
In some patients with the HBV antiviral drug therapy may be very helpful in reducing the risk of ongoing liver damage, cirrhosis and liver cancer. The oral drugs used are Entecavir and Tenofovir and are often well tolerated. Good candidates for treatment are those with a high viral load, active liver damage or scarring. Drug treatment is not curative, as it does not eradicate the virus from the body.
Nutritional medicine for Hepatitis B
It is not surprising that sufferers are turning towards nutritional and herbal therapies to fight the virus. Natural therapies will not usually be able to eradicate the virus from the body; however they will help to prevent the virus from damaging the liver. This approach is very successful and can keep the virus in a dormant or harmless state so that it does not damage liver cells.
In summary a basic protocol to support liver function in those with hepatitis B includes -
An increased intake of antioxidants, which will reduce damage to liver cells caused by the viruses.
The most important antioxidants include –
- Vitamin C in a dose of 1000 mg twice daily
- Selenium in the form of selenomethionine in a dose of 150 – 300 mcg daily
- Natural vitamin E in a dose of 500 to 1000 IU daily
Vitamin E is able to reduce the ability of the stellate cells to manufacture collagen and so reduces scar tissue production. Vitamin E can also soften existing scar tissue and therefore improve blood flow to the liver, which is essential for regeneration of the liver cells. Vitamin E assists in the maintenance of high levels of glutathione, which is the most powerful liver antioxidant to prevent cirrhosis. Use only natural vitamin E which is known as d-alpha tocopherol.
It is vital to obtain plenty of beta-carotene and its related carotenoids from eating a wide variety of brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Beta-carotene is converted in the body to vitamin A. Beta-carotene, other carotenoids and vitamin A, have a powerful anti-cancer effect in those with liver damage. This will reduce the risk of cirrhotic livers developing cancer. Those with liver disease need to be careful not to take excessive amounts of vitamin A and should not take more than 10,000 IU daily.
Selenium has been shown in clinical studies to reduce the incidence of liver cancer and should be taken daily by those with chronic hepatitis B.
An observation study of the liver cancer preventive effect of selenium supplementation was done in China. The 8-year follow-up data showed reduced primary liver cancer incidence of 35.1% in selenized table salt supplemented people versus the non-supplemented population. On withdrawal of selenium from the treated group, primary liver cancer incidence rates began to increase. However, the inhibitory response to the HBV was sustained during the 3-year cessation of treatment.
It takes quite a few months for the selenium to build up to protective levels in the important areas of your body, such as the liver and the immune system and thus a long term commitment to taking these supplements is needed.
Reference: Selenium as a chemo preventative agent in human primary hepatocellular carcinoma Yu SY, Zhu YJ, Li WG. Cancer Institute, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, Beijing 100021 and Qidong Liver Cancer Institute, Jiangsu, PR China.
For more information see the website www.seleniumresearch.com
Take a liver tonic that contains the essential nutrients to support the liver’s ability to detoxify and repair damaged liver cells. For hepatitis, I would recommend a daily liver tonic that contains milk thistle, B vitamins, sulfur containing amino acids and selenium.
Supplements of N – Acetyl Cysteine (NAC) are very beneficial and can be taken in a dose of 600mg three times daily. NAC enables damaged liver cells to make more glutathione which reduces ongoing liver damage.
General Measures in those with hepatitis B
Minimize the use of all medications, especially liver toxins such as alcohol, analgesic drugs (especially acetaminophen, paracetamol and narcotics) and anti- inflammatory drugs. Avoid using household and workplace chemicals such as insecticides, pesticides, chlorine, bleach, paints, glues and solvents.
Fifty percent of your diet should consist of raw and cooked vegetables and fruits. Dressings can be made with organic vinegars (balsamic, apple cider vinegar etc) and cold pressed olive oil. Drink one or two glasses of raw vegetable juices daily. Eat cruciferous vegetables including broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, bok choy and watercress as well as garlic and onions to help the detoxification ability of the liver.
Ask your doctor to check that your body’s total iron content is within normal limits. This can be confirmed with a simple blood test known as serum iron studies. Excess iron can increase liver damage and hepatitis viruses thrive in high-iron environments.
If your iron levels are abnormally high, avoid iron-enriched cereals, vitamin pills containing iron and liver.
Dr Cabot’s famous Liver Healing soup recipe
- 8 cups water
- 2 – 3 tablespoons of cold pressed olive oil
- 2 potatoes, chopped
- 3 tomatoes, chopped
- 2 carrots, chopped
- 2 beets, chopped
- 2 stalks of celery (including the tops), chopped
- 1 large red onion, chopped
- 1 inch finely chopped and peeled ginger
- 1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
- 1 bunch sliced kale or beet greens
- 2-3 fresh artichoke hearts
- 2 cups shiitake mushrooms, fresh or reconstituted, sliced
- 1 whole reishi mushroom (remove when cooked)
- L cup arame or wakame seaweed, chopped
- 1 cup cooked beans or lentils
Add small amounts of celery seed, turmeric, pepper and miso (or tamari) to taste.
In a large saucepan add the oil and bring to a moderate – high heat.
Add the celery (plus tops), ginger, turmeric, tomato, potato, carrots, beets, onions, celery seed and garlic and some pepper. Stir continuously so the vegetables do not stick to the bottom.
When the vegetables begin to brown, carefully add the water. Bring to the boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer.
Add the seaweed, mushrooms, artichoke hearts, lentils/beans and stir. Simmer for about 2 hours.
Add the kale and beet greens15 minutes before you serve. Remove the reishi mushrooms. Stir in the miso/tamari to taste.
Serve alone or with a side salad.