Sodium in Your Diet and Hepatitis C: What You Should Know
Last updated: June 2020
How does the body process what we consume?
In a typical human body, the liver works with other organs to help the body process whatever is brought in. This includes any foods eaten, any liquids consumed, and any drugs taken. In a healthy body, the liver works with the other organs to participate in a chain of events that leads the body to extract the nutrients from foods and drinks and to help the body skim out and eject unhealthy items. In this article we discuss what you should know about sodium in your diet while living with hepatitis C.
When the liver is inundated with unhealthy foods or drinks, it can be overworked, which leads to problems. A common example of this is when a person consumes a lot of alcohol in a short amount of time. Although the liver can process the alcohol and remove the pollutants in minimal quantities, the liver can be overworked and unable to process everything so quickly, which is why you do not feel drunk after a few sips of alcohol but you become intoxicated after several drinks.
How Hepatitis C Affects these Processes
Hepatitis C is a disease that negatively impacts the liver.
In the body of someone who has hepatitis C, the liver diverts some of its focus to the processing of both the hepatitis C virus and to the medication(s) being taken to combat the virus. The leaves the liver left to struggle as it processes the virus and medications along with doing its best to continue to produce the proteins necessary for the blood in the body to break down nutrients and bring them to the parts of the body that require them.
What happens if I consume too much sodium?
As the hepatitis C virus exists in the body, the liver becomes less able to produce the proteins necessary to support the blood processes. This leads the body to send additional fluid to the liver to help it to make those proteins. Sodium can impede this process.
This means that, not only can the body suffer from not getting the nutrients through the blood that it needs, but the excess sodium can cause the body to hang on to too much fluid, which can lead to swelling in the legs and abdomen.
Over time, if the person does not limit their sodium intake, this process can repeat so many times that the body can begin to show other signs of problems. These are typically related both to not being able to get the proper nutrients and to the excess fluid.
Fluid in the legs can limit a person’s mobility, which can lead to problems from a lack of exercise, as well as simple concerns related to the ability for a person to live his/her daily life. In extreme examples, a person may become unable to walk at all. Fluid in the abdomen can make it difficult for the person to breathe and for their body to properly function on a daily basis.
The body can then become malnourished, with other organs showing signs of difficulties as they lack the nutrients they need to function properly. This can lead to hair loss, problems with vision, muscle weakness, and other significant and sometimes irreversible medical problems.
What should I be consuming instead?
No one expects you to give up all of your favorite foods. Too often, people are so afraid to discuss dietary concerns with their doctors because they fear being told that they are destined to live on rice cakes and bran muffins forever. Not so.
Although some sodium is okay, it is important for you to be aware of your daily sodium intake and to make choices to limit the extent of sodium in your diet with hepatitis C. Often, small changes can add up to big results.
For example, when eating at a restaurant, order your burger without cheese, which can save you more than 250 mg of sodium. You can ask for your fries to be “salt free” and restaurants are happy to make a new batch just for you.
Also, keep an eye on the condiments you are adding to your foods. Although a salad can be a great healthy choice, some salad dressings are heavy with sodium.
Check the labels in your grocery store or refrigerator to decide which of your favorites are the healthiest option for you is. Although some folks may feel stressed at the thought of having to revamp their meal choices because of a hepatitis C diagnosis, starting with these small changes can be much less cumbersome and intrusive.
For other tips and ideas of ways to limit your sodium intake, please talk with your doctor. Your medical team can help you with suggestions and with a referral to a dietician.1-7