Control Hepatitis C with Diet and Exercise
Overweight people infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV) may be able to limit or even reverse virus-caused liver damage by losing weight, according to recent study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2002;75(Suppl):339S).
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate almost four million Americans have been infected with HCV, and that 75 to 85% of these people will develop a chronic infection due to the virus. Hepatitis C is most often contracted through blood transfusions, intravenous drug use (sharing needles), or through other blood exposure. While most people with chronic HCV have no symptoms, infection with this virus can cause long-term liver damage and rarely is associated with liver cancer. Men and those who consume more than 10 grams (one-third of an ounce) of alcohol per day appear to be at higher risk of developing more severe liver disease.
The success rate for conventional antiviral treatment is less than 50%, with many people experiencing only temporary remission. Common medications prescribed for HCV include alpha-interferon (Roferon A®) and ribavirin (Rebetol®, Rebetron®), which may be given for six months to one year. These treatments are expensive and have many debilitating side effects.
Researchers put 19 overweight people with HCV on a 12-week diet and exercise program, with a goal of losing about 1 pound per week. At the conclusion of the study, average weight loss was approximately 13 pounds. In addition, several markers of liver health improved, including a decrease in liver enzymes (higher numbers suggest more liver damage) and a reduction in the amount of scar tissue and fat in the liver. These changes indicate a decrease in the severity of the liver disease. Those who continued on the weight loss program for another 12 months had sustained improvement in the health of their liver. A surprising finding is that these improvements occurred even though the virus was not eradicated from the body. This study therefore suggests that overweight individuals may be able to improve the health of their liver, even if they continue to suffer from chronic hepatitis C.
Since this study only examined overweight individuals, it is unknown whether people of normal weight with HCV would also benefit from the same diet and exercise program. It is important to note that going on a diet is not a substitute for medical treatment for hepatitis C, but rather an additional approach to help improve liver function. Please consult a physician or nutritionist before starting any diet or exercise program.
Darin Ingels, ND, MT (ASCP), received his bachelor’s degree from Purdue University and his Doctorate of Naturopathic Medicine from Bastyr University in Kenmore, WA. Dr. Ingels is the author of Garlic and Cholesterol: Everything You Need to Know (Prima, 1999) and Natural Treatments for High Cholesterol (Prima, 2000). He currently is in private practice in Southport, CT, where he specializes in environmental medicine and allergies. Dr. Ingels is a regular contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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