In hepatitis C, a new liver might be needed in the worst case scenario. However, there are many helpful, applicable tips you can apply that will help your liver before it gets to that stage.
In this article, I’m going to talk about hepatitis A, B and C to help you differentiate between all of them. After that, I will move on to what can be specifically done to help your hepatitis.
Here’s the outline of what I’m going to walk you through in this article:
- The different types of hepatitis and how they’re transmitted,
- Why you need your liver,
- Signs and symptoms of hepatitis a (HAV), hepatitis b (HBV) and hepatitis c (HCV),
- The tests required to determine if it’s HAV, HBV and HCV,
- Pharmaceutical and surgical options for HAV, HBV and HCV,
- What having long term HBV and HCV means, and finally
- 10 secret tips to reduce the severity of your HCV
Different types of Hepatitis and Transmission
Hepatitis A is more common in developing countries than the first world. Hepatitis A’s prevalence in developing countries is due to its mode of transmission where the person comes into contact with faecal substances in their oral cavity.
The transfer usually happens through consumption of food or water that is contaminated. Developing countries do have higher rates of Hepatitis A, but developed countries can still experience it. You usually hear about these things on the news.
These berries reported usually make their way from China or Chile where it’s rumoured that they sometimes use human faecal matter to fertilise the plants.
Hepatitis A is preventable. The best way to avoid contracting it is by practising basic hygiene before preparation of meals and knowing where your food comes from.
If you’re unsure, you can turn up the heat to 85 degrees centigrade to kill the bacteria.
Hepatitis B (HBV) is more worrisome than HAV. Around the world, more than 240 million people have been infected with HBV and six hundred thousand people die annually from it.
The most common places where these deaths occur are in the East Asian and sub-Saharan African regions as they are infected from childhood.
There are various ways that HBV can be contracted. HBV spreads when a person who is not infected comes into contact with infected semen, vaginal fluids, blood or other body fluid and enters their body.
Infection can happen from:
- An HBV positive mother transmitting the virus to her new born
- Sharing needles, syringes
- Direct contact with blood in an open wound
- A needle accidently sticking you
- Sharing toothbrushes or razor blades
So, what are some ways that HBV isn’t spread?
- Sharing utensils,
- Kissing (unless they have an open wound),
- Holding hands,
- Sneezing or
The scary thing about this virus is that it can remain alive outside of the body for up to seven days. Usually, viruses die much faster than that because they need a host to feed off.
Hepatitis C is unique compared to the others as there are multiple strains of the HCV. People are affected all around the world by HCV, but it is most commonly found in Africa and East Asia.
If you have HCV, you might be lucky enough if your body clears the virus. This is believed to happen in about 15%-45% of infected people wihtin a 6 month period, without treatment. Unfortunately, the remaining people with HCV will go on to develop a chronic condition of the liver.
HCV is transmitted through the blood. People most commonly contract this virus via:
- Sharing injectable equipment
- Using medical equipment which is not sterilised properly
- Transfussion of unscreened HCV blood to a recipient
- Birthing a baby
- Any other way you make contact with HCV containing blood
HCV is not be contracted through:
- Breast milk,
- Sharing food or drink with an infected person, and
- Casual contact made like hugging.
Remember how I was saying that HBV can live outside of the host for up to 7 days? Well HCV can live for up to 3 weeks outside of the host.
Is the liver that important?
So, why is your liver important anyway? It’s responsible for various functions within the body and if the liver is damaged these biological processes will be set back.
Here’s a snippet of some functions of the liver.
- Removes toxins from your blood,
- Certain parts of red blood cells are recycled in the liver,
- The Kupffer cells in the liver begin the breakdown of old red blood cells,
- From the liver, iron is carried to the bone marrow to produce heamaglobin,
- Excess cholesterol is converted into bile salts,
- Plasma proteins needed for transporting fats, hormones, vitamins and minerals are produced in the liver,
- The liver regulates nutrient levels,
- Nutrients are stored in the liver,
- The liver is needed for hormone regulation, and
- It stores excess glucose
Signs and Symptoms of HAV, HBV, HCV
The contraction of HAV has no initial signs or symptoms. There is an incubation period of between fifteen to fifty days and can no average last about 30 days. Here’s what the incubation period looks like:
The clinical onset mark you can see in that diagram is when you come down with HAV signs and symptoms. Mistaking the signs and symptoms of the flu is easy. You can experience muscle aches, loss of appetite, vomiting, headaches, fever, malaise, abdominal discomfort and jaundice.
Jaundice gives you a yellowish colour on the skin, mucous membranes and eyes. This happens because bile doesn’t properly leave the liver and backs up into the blood. Jaundice also causes your urine to turn a dark colour and your stools will be very light in colour from the lack of bile. Lastly, your recovery can last anywhere from 10 to 21 days and it will take you 3 to 6 months to fully get over the HAV.
HBV symptomology is very similar to that of HAV. You don’t know that you have contracted the virus, you don’t fall sick for a period of 6 weeks and 6 months and it has similar symptoms to HAV.
HBV symptoms include: fatigue, fever, nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, dark urine, light coloured bowel movements, abdominal pain, joint pain, and jaundice.
HCV presents itself the same way that HAV and HBV. I won’t repeat the symptoms list for your sake because they can be the same as HAV and HBV.
You’ve probably noticed by now that HAV, HBV and HCV have very similar signs and symptoms. The thing that stands out the most is the:
- Dark urine,
- Light coloured stools, and
Due to the various types of hepatitis, it’s difficult for your doctor to tell apart which is which. An acute viral hepatitis panel has been developed to distinguish which one it could be depending on the lab results. Your doctor should also have a general idea of which virus you have based on your history, but a definative diagnosis will be made with lab results
Investigations for HAV, HBV and HCV
Acute viral hepatitis panel
- Hepatitis A antibody, IgM
- Hepatitis B core antibody, IgM
- Hepatitis B surface Ag
- Hepatitis C antibody
- Measuring some liver enzymes
These tests are going to be explained as we go along in each section relating to the particular type of hepatitis.
HAV-IgM and HAV-IgG *Used in the acute viral hepatitis panel*
The is the final test for HAV. Doctors will request that you get a blood test for HAV-IgM and HAV-IgG anti-bodies.
The HAV-IgM antibody test is a good indictor if the infection is relatively recent. The IgG antibody test is used to check if the HAV has developed to a later stage.
The presence of HAV-IgG isn’t a bad thing, it indicates what stage you are at and that your immune system is working correctly. Part of the reason why they’re beneficial is due to them staying present in your body to fight off future HAV infections.
Complete blood count
A complete blood count assesses white blood cells, red blood cells and platelets and allows practitioners to look at your individual health status.
For the purpose of HAV, the complete blood count is used to screen for lymphocytosis, low grade hemolysis, and the more uncommon red cell aplasia and pancytopenia.
Let me break those terms down for you.
Lymphocytosis – an increase in a number of lymphocytes which are a part of your white blood cells.
Hemolysis – the destruction of red blood cells.
Aplasia – organ failure
Pancytopenia – this is where you lack the normal components of blood (red cells, white cells and platelets).
Liver function test *Used in the acute viral hepatitis panel, not just unique to HAV*
Liver function tests are used to screen, detect and evaluate liver damage or inflammation. In the case of HAV, you will notice an increased value of ALT and AST.
AST levels are usually low and is found in red blood cells, the heart, liver, muscle tissue, pancreas and kidney. After a traumatic event takes place, AST is released into the blood stream and stays elevated for the following four days.
Like AST, ALT levels are very low in the blood and is only released when there is something type of trauma. ALT is mainly found in the liver and in smaller amounts in the kidney, heart, pancreas, and muscle.
Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) *Used in the acute viral hepatitis panel*
This is a blood test that looks for a protein produced in response to the virus and sits on the cells of the HBV. If you come back positive for this protein, then you have HBV and have the potential to pass it onto others.
Here’s a table from the centre for disease control which points out what your results mean. There are other tests included that determine the final result. Scroll down below the image to learn what those other tests are.
Hepatitis B surface antibody (anti-HBs)
A positive result for anti-HBs on its own can mean that you are recovering from HBV and you have immunity to it. An important thing to note here is that a positive result doesn’t mean you’re not infected by another hepatitis virus.
IgM antibody to hepatitis B core antigen (IgM anti-HBc) *Used in the acute viral hepatitis panel*
If you come back positive, it indicates that you have had HBV for less than 6 months and your contraction of the virus is very recent.
Total hepatitis B core antibody (anti-HBc)
This antibody is the first one to be produced when you first show symptoms and is consistent for life. It’s a vague indicator of what going on because it doesn’t show a strong indication of where it fits into the hepatitis infection cycle. The presence of anti-HBc means you could have an ongoing infection or had a previous infection.
Doctors won’t rely heavily on this test to confirm HBV. They will use the other blood tests, liver enzyme results, clinical signs and symptoms, and risk factor history to determine what you have.
HBV liver tests
The blood tests are specific for HBV so the doctor can determine if you have the virus or not.
HCV-antibody *Used in the acute viral hepatitis panel*
The HCV antibody test is used to screen you for past, or current infection. The results can be vague as a “weak positive” can mean a false positive. For this reason, a follow-up test called the HCV RNA test is ordered.
There are 2 parts to this test. One it the quantitative, and the other is the qualitative. The quantitative aspect of the test analyses the number of viral RNA particles in the blood which can be used to confirm HCV infection and diagnose it.
The qualitative aspect of the test looks at whether or not you have a current or past infection. Below is a table which shows what the results for HCV RNA and HCV-antibody mean.
Pharmaceutical and surgical options for HAV, HBV and HCV
Pharmaceutical Therapy – Your doctor will recommend rest, but no medication.
Pharmaceutical Therapy – Acute HBV. There are no drugs available to treat acute HBV. Your doctor, again, will recommend that you rest. However, if the results from your tests indicate that your case severe then you will be referred to the hospital
Pharmaceutical Therapy – Chronic HBV. There are drugs prescribed by doctors for chronic HBV infections. Below is a list of these medications you can find out more on if you click on the names.
Surgical Therapy – If you do get to this unfortunate stage in HBV, there may be surgical options available for you. Your health care provider will decide if you need an orthotopic liver transplant after extensive investigation. Usually, this option is only open to those who have livers are majorly scarred.
Pharmaceutical Therapy – Pharmaceutical therapy is given to you based on your condition of HCV and any other underlying conditions that you might have. Prescribed drugs include:
- Immunosuppressive agents
- Anti-viral agents
- Antineoplastic agents
Surgical therapy – The only reason why you would get surgical treatment for a liver transplant is for the same reason as HBV.
What is the prognosis?
Prognosis refers to where the condition will end up. In essence, it’s the course that the disease will take naturally. For example, if you were to get a cold and are generally healthy, the prognosis is that you will get better. But, if you are of very old age and have a cold your prognosis might be different.
Hepatitis A – The prognosis of hepatitis A is good. It resolves much faster with the aid of nutrition, herbs and lifestyle. There have been deaths recorded from hepatitis A in all age groups but is more common in the elderly.
You are at a higher risk if you have chronic liver disease or are over the age of 50. If you are otherwise healthy, you have a greater chance of a good recovery.
Hepatitis B – Like HAV, you can recover from HBV, but complications can occur down the track and affect around 1 in 20 people. The prognosis can be cirrhosis of the liver, liver cancer, and fulminant HBV.
- Cirrhosis of the liver – This can take years to develop and might not cause any noticeable symptoms. When the liver damage has taken place, you will begin to notice symptoms like jaundice, pain in the upper right abdomen, nausea, itchy skin, vomiting, loss of appetite and weakness. Below, you can see what cirrhosis looks like compared to a healthy liver.
You can see that the liver has formed little nodules throughout the whole organ. Each nodule represents a part of the liver that isn’t able to function anymore.
- Liver cancer – develops in about 10% of people who have chronic HBV. The signs and symptoms of this are the same as liver cirrhosis.
- Fulminant HBV – This is rare and happens when the body’s own immune system launches an attack on the hepatocytes of the liver. Symptoms include jaundice, a collection of fluid in the abdominal cavity called ascites, and confusion. The below image is of ascites.
After the first 20 years of having the HCV, 20% of individuals can go on to develop cirrhosis of the liver. Factors that aggravate cirrhosis related to HCV is HBV coinfection, immunosuppression, alcohol use, excess fat, sugar and calories, age HCV was acquired and to much iron in the body.
Okay, I’ve covered a lot of information. Now it’s time to move on to what you can do about your HCV.
10 secrets to naturally decrease the severity of HCV
1. Reduce oxidative stress
In cases of HCV, the virus mounts an attack on the immune system. It’s also been found that in chronic cases of hepatitis, the immune system starts the production of reactive oxygen species. HCV out of the 3 discussed produces the most reactive oxygen species.
Reactive oxygen species increases the defence system in the body in normal circumstances, but in cases where levels are increased chronically, it can cause damage to your cells. This is shown in a diagram below.
One of the most potent anti-oxidants that your body can produce is glutathione. It works by decreasing hydrogen peroxide levels in your body, scavenging nitrogen radicals and reactive oxygen species. People who go on to develop chronic cases of HCV usually have lower levels of glutathione.
So, how do you go about producing glutathione?
Amino acids – To be practical, the easiest and most straight forward way to do this is by consuming the amino acids cysteine, glycine and glutamine. If you consuming glutamine, make sure you are getting enough B6 and zinc in your diet to avoid it being converted to glutamate.
Vegetables – If you don’t want to consume those amino acids then you can opt for vegetables from the cruciferous family which will enable you to produce glutathione. Cruciferous vegetables include cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, radishes, Brussel sprouts, bok choy, turnips, watercress and so on. These contain sulfur which drives the production of glutathione.
N-acetyl-cysteine – This is a good option to use in the very short term. I’m saying very short term because even with many positives it provides, it also has been used as an effective chelating agent in studies and can irritate the lining of the gut.
NAC may chelate zinc, magnesium and other essential metals needed for normal biological functioning of your body. So, to stay on the safe side you’re probably better off consuming other sources of food in the cruciferous family to aid the production of glutathione.
2. St Mary’s thistle
You can get this herb in tablet form as a standardised extract. Silymarin and silibinin contained within the herb have anti-oxidant, immunomodulatory, antiproliferative, antifibrotic and antiviral activities.
The anti-oxidant properties are from the flavonolignans and are capable of scavenging reactive oxygen species, while, at the same time regulating the intracellular levels of glutathione. It also stabilises the cells in the liver making it harder for the virus to infiltrate and do damage.
There is a version of this herb called Legalon SIL and is used in hospitals intravenously. It has shown significant benefits to those receiving transplants. The first case was shown to prevent HCV reinfection of the graft, and secondly, Legalon SIL was reported to prevent reinfection from the graft.
3. Turmeric as an anti-inflammatory
Turmeric has the ability to slow down fibrosis of the liver by reducing the expression of particular markers within the liver. Its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory actions allow it to inhibit hepatic stellate cells which are a major contributor to fibrosis.
Another great thing about turmeric is that it can slow transmission of the virus in the liver to neighbouring cells
Depletion of zinc in hepatitis can lead to the decreased development differentiation and development of cells belonging to the innate and acquired immunity.
Because your immune system is functioning at a lower than average rate, you will experience more oxidative stress and damage to your DNA. A review found that taking zinc with IFN-alpha therapy in HCV improved protection against the virus.
Additionally, they found in several studies that HCV patients taking zinc had improved fingernail health, their body weight increased to a healthy weight, gastrointestinal issues were alleviated and hair loss began to decrease.
5. Alpha-lipoic acid, selenium silymarin (St Mary’s thistle)
All three agents were used as antioxidant therapy because of their ability to improve endogenous antioxidant status and to also interfere with viral replication. The combination was used on three patients who were waiting for liver transplants. Surprisingly, with the state the patients were in, all 3 felt healthy and returned to work after treatment.
6. Cut out alcohol
Alcohol takes a heavy toll on the liver. It decreases existing glutathione and selenium levels, reduces the amount glutathione that could is made and increases the quantity of reactive oxygen species.
7. Cut out inflammatory foods
Inflammation is one of the driving factors in the initial stages of HCV because your body is mounting an attack to fight off the virus. It the inflammation is persistent, the inflamed liver will lead to permanent scarring.
This scar tissue further aggravates your liver by partially restricting blood flow to healthy parts. When the scar tissue takes over your liver, you enter into the realm of cirrhosis.
You can take steps to reduce the inflammation by eliminating aggravating foods. A study on HCV positive patients and controls without HCV found that when eating unhealthy foods high in carbohydrates, calories and fats there was a negative impact on livers cells. Fats had the most negative impact on cirrhosis.
So, what can you eat instead? Have a look at the Mediterranean diet which is talked about in one of my posts on chronic pain. It gives you a few ideas to put into action in the kitchen while describing in a bit more detail what the Mediterranean diet is about.
8. Vitamin E for reducing ALT
A study carried out on positive HCV patients required them to take d-alpha tocopherol for three months. They measured the baseline before the administration of vitamin E, and they were followed up on at month 1, 2, and 3 to record their progress.
The study divided the groups into a high and low category based on their lab results for the liver enzyme ALT. The results showed that people in the low ALT group didn’t benefit and those in the high ALT group had great improvements. High ALT considered to be >70IU/I.
9. Phase 2 liver support
This might be the first time your hearing of Phase 2 liver support. There are two phases in the breakdown and excretion of toxins in the body as displayed in the image below. Phase 1 is facilitated by enzymes in the liver called cytochrome P450 that convert toxins into substances for phase 2.
What you want to focus on is improving your phase 2 pathway. The reason behind this can be put simply. If your phase 1 pathway is working better than your phase 2 you will produce more oxidative stress which further impacts your liver. This is because when toxins are broken down, they’re in a position to cause a lot of free radical damage.
To counter this, you can upregulate your phase 2 and to get rid of the broken down toxins. To give you an idea, you should be getting your hands on cruciferous vegetables and eating a diet that has a varied source of protein to get the amino acids needed for phase 2.
10. Drink water
This one may seem obvious, but it’s good to reinforce. If you’re not drinking enough water through your day, your body won’t be as efficient in excreting the toxins through your urine and stools.
You already know the importance of getting those toxins out, so I don’t have to explain this one to you. Here’s a water consumption calculator which gives you a rough idea of how much you should be drinking based on your weight.
Do you have experience with HCV? What are some things that worked for you or someone you know?