Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis can be caused by many drugs and toxic chemicals, but in most instances it is caused by a virus. Viral types A, B, and C are the most common.
During the period before liver involvement a person with viral hepatitis may experience a loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, and flu-like symptoms that can occur two weeks to one month before liver involvement, depending on the incubation period of the virus. Once the liver is involved a person with hepatitis shows a tender and enlarged liver, fever, jaundice (yellow appearance of the skin), and markedly elevated liver enzymes (aminotransaminases) and bilirubin levels in the blood.
Acute viral hepatitis can be an extremely debilitating disease requiring bed rest. It can take anywhere from two to sixteen weeks to recover. Most patients recover completely (usually by nine weeks for type A and sixteen weeks for types B, C, D, and G). However, about one out of one hundred will die, and 10% of hepatitis B and 10-40% of hepatitis C cases candevelop into chronic viral hepatitis (hepatitis C contracted from a transfusion is associated with a 70-80% chance of developing into chronic hepatitis).
The symptoms of chronic hepatitis vary. The symptoms can be virtually nonexistent or they can lead to chronic fatigue, serious liver damage, and even death due to cirrhosis of the liver or liver cancer.
What causes hepatitis?
Hepatitis can be caused by many drugs and toxic chemicals, but in most instances it is caused by a virus. Viral types A, B, and C are the most common. Hepatitis A occurs sporadically or in epidemics, and is transmitted primarily through fecal contamination. Hepatitis B is transmitted through infected blood or blood products, as well as through sexual contact (the virus is shed in saliva, semen, and vaginal secretion). Hepatitis C (formerly known as hepatitis non-A, non-B) has a primary route of transmission through blood transfusion. In fact, about 10% of people who received blood transfusions developed hepatitis C in the past before the blood supply was checked for the presence of hepatitis C. Other viral causes of hepatitis include: hepatitis viruses D, E, and G, as well as Herpes simplex, cytomegalovirus, and Epstein-Barr virus.
What about chronic hepatitis C?
Statistics from the World Health Organization estimates that 350 million individuals have chronic hepatitis. The most serious form of chronic hepatitis is chronic hepatitis C (CHC). It is suspected that there are, at present, more than 5 million people in the United States that are infected with CHC, and perhaps as many as 200 million around the world (that is roughly 5% of the world’s population). The death rate from hepatitis C exceeds that from AIDS.
The drug of choice in conventional medicine for CHC is now a combination of pegylated alpha-interferon (given by weekly injection) and the antiviral drug ribavarin (given by pill daily). While results are often impressive, this treatment is not a panacea. Natural products can be used as supportive agents to drug therapy or as an important alternative treatment when the drugs fail to improve the condition.
Are there any specific foods useful to support liver function?
First off, it is important to reduce the stress on your liver! For a healthy liver:
- Don’t smoke
- Drink little or no alcohol
- Avoid caffeine
- Avoid harmful chemicals, especially cleaning solvents and pesticides
- Saturated fats and refined sugar
- Drink at least 48 ounces of water each day
- Consume lots of vegetables and legumes for their high fiber and nutrient content
The most important dietary guidelines for good liver function are also those that support good general health. Certain foods are particularly helpful because they contain the nutrients your body needs to produce and activate the dozens of enzymes involved in the various phases of detoxification. Such foods include:
- Garlic, legumes, onions, eggs, and other foods with a high sulfur content.
- Good sources of water-soluble fibers, such as pears, oat bran, apples, and legumes
- Cabbage-family vegetables, especially broccoli, Brussels sprouts, and cabbage.
- Artichokes, beets, carrots, dandelion greens, and many herbs and spices such as turmeric, cinnamon, and licorice.
- Green foods like wheat grass juice, dehydrated barley grass juice, chlorella, and spirulina.
What supplements do you recommend to support liver function?
Foundation Supplements. There are three products from Natural Factors that I think are critical in supporting good health:
- MultiStart (age and gender specific multiple vitamin and mineral formulas). Follow label instructions.
- Enriching Greens – a great tasting “greens drink” containing highly concentrated “greens” like chlorella, spirulina, wheat grass juice, barley grass juice, etc., and herbal extracts. Take one serving (one tablespoon) in 8 ounces of water daily.
- RxOmega-3 Factors – A true pharmaceutical grade fish oil supplement. Take two capsules daily.
For people with CHC, additional nutritional support is definitely needed. For comprehensive liver health support I recommend the following Natural Factors products:
Detoxitech – a specific powdered drink mix designed to support liver function. Detoxitech contains hypoallergenic protein, compounds that enhance the production of the important detoxification compound glutathione, and other specific aids to detoxification and elimination. Take one or two servings daily.
Liver Health Formula – a formula I developed to provide special nutritional factors to support the liver. Take two capsules one to three times daily with the dosage depending upon your size and severity of viral load. Here is a brief description of each component in this formula:
- Glucuronate is a nutritional substance used by the liver to bind to toxins to help eliminate them from the system. This process is used to detoxify many hormones; food additives; toxic components of cigarette smoke, and many other harmful substances. In fact, of all the many chemical reactions taking place in the liver cell, the attachment of glucuronate to toxic substances is considered the most important. When glucuronate is ingested as a dietary supplement it reduces the stress on the liver and enhances the liver’s ability to detoxify through glucuronidation. Clinical studies have shown glucuronate supplementation can improve liver function considerably even in cases of poor liver function due to alcohol abuse, acute and chronic hepatitis, exposure to toxic substances, and diabetes.
- Alpha-Lipoic Acid is a sulfur-containing vitamin-like substance that plays an important role as the necessary cofactor in two vital energy-producing reactions involved in the production of cellular energy (ATP). Lipoic acid is an effective antioxidant. It is unique in that it is effective against both water and fat soluble free radicals. It protects the liver from free radical damage and also helps promote detoxification reactions. Preliminary clinical evidence has shown benefits to people with hepatitis and cirrhosis of the liver.4
- Silybin Phytosome is a special extract of milk thistle bound to phosphatidylcholine. A growing body of scientific research indicates that Silybin Phytosome is better absorbed and produces better results than regular milk thistle extract. Silybin Phytosome is one of the most potent liver-protecting substances known. It protects the liver by:
- Acting as a direct antioxidant and free radical scavenger.
- Increasing the intracellular content of antioxidant compounds.
- Stimulating the formation of new liver cells to replaced those that are damaged.
- Licorice extract contains glycyrrhetinic acid, the active component that has been shown to protect the liver from damage, enhance the immune system, potentiate the effect of the immune-enhancing agent interferon, and to aid the liver in detoxification reactions. Clinical studies with a glycyrrhetinic acid product in Japan have shown excellent results in supporting individuals with both acute and chronic hepatitis.
- Curcumin is the yellow pigment of turmeric (Curcuma longa) – the chief ingredient in curry. Curcumin has demonstrated significant activity in many experimental and clinical studies. Many of its beneficial effects are attributed to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects. It has been shown to improve liver function and promote improved clearance of toxic compounds by the liver.
- Panax ginseng Phytosome. Long revered for its tonic effects, Panax ginseng exerts significant effects on enhancing liver function including helping to regulate the manufacture of proteins and filtration of the blood.
- Schizandra Berry Extract. The fully ripe, sun-dried fruit of schizandra has been a classic component in Traditional Chinese Medicine for centuries. Some of the effects noted in scientific studies include antioxidant effects; an anti-stress action, much like ginseng, in helping to combat fatigue and stress; an ability to protect the liver from chemical damage.
How do I know if the recommendations are working?
Blood tests can be used to monitor the success of this program to support liver function if you have CHC. In addition to standard measures of liver function, I recommend blood measurement of the viral load every three to six months.
This program can be used with standard medical treatment. In fact, it may help reduce side effects and increase the effectiveness of the drugs. If positive results are apparent, the protocol can and should be followed indefinitely. However, if positive results are not apparent after 3 to 6 months I recommend simply taking the foundation supplements (MultiStart, Enriching Greens, RxOmega-3 Factors). The program is generally very well tolerated. I recommend taking the RxOmega-3 Factors just before meals to avoid burping up any fish oil odor.