In many cases, a person does not know they have reason to be tested for hepatitis C until they begin to show symptoms that are severe enough that they discuss their concerns with a doctor. This often means that the hepatitis C (hep C) virus has been in the body for months, years, or even decades before the body begins to receive the treatment necessary to remove the virus from the blood stream. In that time, the liver has been consistently compromised, and it is very common for liver damage to occur.
The extent of the damage is often correlated with the length of time the person has been infected, but this is not always the case. As part of your treatment plan, your doctor may run additional tests at the time of your diagnosis, as well as throughout your treatment process, and at the completion of your medication regimen. Your doctor may even ask you to return for additional liver testing a while after you have stopped needing medication. These tests are to understand the damage that has been done to various parts of your body, with the most frequent concern being liver damage. This will allow your doctor to understand your body’s individual needs and be able to share that information with you so that you can take steps necessary to rebuild liver cells and return to the healthiest physical state possible.
If you are uncertain whether your liver has been damaged due to hepatitis C, talk with your doctor. They may have already run tests and can help to explain the results, or they may discuss your risk factors and decide to run tests in order to test your liver function.
How do I repair the damage that’s been done?
The repair process comes in two forms; how you move your body and what you put into it. Exercise is a great way to help your body to heal, as long as you find the balance between working your muscles safely and not overdoing it.
Many choose to begin walking and will increase the pace, distance, and time spent as their bodies become stronger. Others choose another form of exercise, such as swimming. If you are uncertain how to begin, many local gyms offer low cost or free trial memberships and have staff available to discuss how you can gain body strength without injuring yourself by trying to do too much too soon.
In addition to regular physical activity, liver repair requires healthy foods so that your body can heal. This is the time to focus your grocery shopping on the produce aisle. Here, you’ll find broccoli and spinach (rich in vitamins B and C and full of folic acid), tomatoes (full of vitamins C and E and bursting with antioxidants such as lycopene), asparagus and watermelon (full of gluthathione), and more. In the more middle aisles of the store, you’ll find healthy whole grains, such as brown rice (B vitamins and selenium) and spices and seasonings, such as garlic (contains methionine and glutathione) and cayenne pepper (which has B, C, and E, as well as beta-carotene and lutein).
By filling your cart and your body with these nutrients and drinking lots of water, you’ll be sending nutrients to your liver and helping to flush toxins out. You cannot magically fix your liver, but you can provide it with the nutrients it needs to heal and do your best not to further tax or stress it while your body works to heal the damage.
I am done with medication. This means I can go back to drinking like I used to, right?
Your doctor likely told you that avoiding alcohol was necessary during your treatment. This is largely because alcohol can impact the efficacy of medications and because alcohol can cause hepatitis C cells to replicate quicker than they naturally would. After reaching a point of no longer needing medication, many feel excited to return to their original life habits from before their diagnosis. Often, this includes alcohol.
Unfortunately, it is unlikely that you can truly know exactly how damaged your liver is from the hepatitis C virus. This means that it is important not to do anything that will further stress the liver or risk further damage to the healthy cells within the liver. While some doctors may say that one glass of wine per month may not be detrimental, all doctors agree that it is safest not to consume any alcohol at all and take unnecessary risks.
If you find yourself struggling with the inability to drink alcohol, you may be in the beginning stages of recognizing that you have dependence or an addiction. If this is a concern to you, contact your doctor to discuss these feelings. You will be given information and referral material so you can speak with a specialist who can guide you.1-4
Cutler, L.Ac., N. (2014). Having a Beer After SVR. Hepatitiscentral.com. Retrieved 30 March 2016, from http://www.hepatitiscentral.com/news/having-a-beer-after-svr/
Cutler, L.Ac., N. (2015). Nutrition’s Role in Rebuilding Liver Cells After Beating Hepatitis C. Hepatitiscentral.com. Retrieved 30 March 2016, from http://www.hepatitiscentral.com/news/nutritions-role-in-rebuilding-liver-cells-after-beating-hepatitis-c/2/
Is Liver Fibrosis Reversible?. (2016). Hepatitiscentral.com. Retrieved 30 March 2016, from http://www.hepatitiscentral.com/hcv/fibrosis/reversible/
Warner, J. (2016). 8 Steps to Protect Your Liver With Hepatitis C. EverydayHealth.com. Retrieved 30 March 2016, from http://www.everydayhealth.com/hs/hepatitis-c-living-well/protect-liver/