Vitamins, Supplements, and Hepatitis C

Why does my body suddenly need special vitamins or supplements?

When a person becomes infected with the hepatitis C virus, there is often no immediate knowledge that this has happened. As infection typically occurs from IV drug use, an infected tattoo needle, or an old blood transfusion in a hospital setting, there is no magical moment in which the infected person becomes instantly aware that something has changed within them.

In addition, many people who are infected show no immediate symptoms. This often means that a person can go years, or even decades, with no idea that their body is fighting the hepatitis C (hep C) virus. During that time, the body is being affected. Most often, the impact is seen in the liver, via liver damage.

Unfortunately, the extent of liver damage is not always correlated with the length of time the body has been infected. This may mean that one person with a twenty-year infection could have less liver damage than someone with a two-year infection. Regardless of the length of time the body has been battling the hep C virus, however, the liver has been compromised.

This may mean that the body is simply feeling more fatigued, because it requires more effort and energy for the liver to process fats and break down food through the digestion process. Or it may mean that the body feels bloated or in pain because the digestion process is compromised, and the liver is unable to function enough to do its job. This is also different for each person. Only your doctor can tell you the impact your infection has caused to your liver.

As your doctor works with you to find the right medications to combat the hepatitis C virus, your liver will continue to need support as it heals from the damage. This is where vitamins and supplements come in. They help to provide assistance through the healing process, as well as helping to minimize additional stress or damage on the liver through the medication process.

Which vitamins and supplements do I need?

The tricky thing about vitamins and supplements is that most are not required to be approved by the United States Federal Drug Administration (the FDA). This means that, unlike food on grocery store shelves, no one is legally required to watch or verify what goes into pill bottles. Sometimes this means that the pills do not have as much or any of the nutrient they are supposed to have. Sometimes it means there are other additional ingredients.

This could mean that a person taking a pill may not be actually getting what they think they are, plus they might be taking something that contains a substance that can lead to an adverse reaction. This is why many doctors recommend consuming nutrients through foods and beverages.

For some, this means choosing cereals that are fortified with additional protein. For others, it means shopping the produce aisles in search of leafy greens in order to increase the intake of folic acid, vitamin D, and antioxidants that both detoxify the liver and help it to function better.

If you are uncertain what your body needs, discuss it with your doctor. Together, you can consider which foods your palate enjoys that will best provide your body with the nutrients it needs to function and heal.

What vitamins and supplements should I avoid?

Fat-soluble vitamins (such as A, E, D, and K) are kept in the body in the liver and fatty tissues. This makes them difficult for the body to remove, which can cause stress on the liver. There are also B-complex vitamins that can be tricky; pill bottle labels and generalized internet research will tell you that B vitamins are necessary for your overall liver health, and this is true. However, the body stores B vitamins for up to several years. This means that a person can accidentally have too much B vitamin in their body, which can cause liver damage.

Since a damaged liver may absorb vitamins and nutrients differently than a healthy liver, it is important to be cautious.

Your doctor can help you determine how much, if any, of these nutrients should be consumed so that you can have the right benefits without causing undue stress or long-term problems for your body.

How do I know whether the vitamins and supplements are working?

Some people feel a change within themselves. They may feel more energetic. They may feel less pain or bloating. Some may see a reduction in the appearance of jaundice or have a loved one point this out to them. Some may only hear about improvement to their liver after routine tests with doctors which can help you to understand liver function.

Others may not know for sure that the vitamins and/or supplements are working at all. This does not necessarily mean they are not working. If you are considering altering your diet or vitamin/supplement regimen in any way (adding something new, increasing the amount, decreasing the amount, or stopping entirely), make sure to discuss this with your doctor first. Your doctor will be able to address your concerns and help you to decide the right plan for your body and your liver.

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