New medicines have improved the outlook for hepatitis C patients, but lifestyle changes also help you manage the disease. Try these self-care tips:
When it comes to diet, the same advice applies to everyone, including people with hepatitis C. Eat well-rounded meals that include:
- Fresh fruits and vegetables
- Whole grains
- Lean protein
"I recommend to my patients a good, healthy diet, similar to what they would eat if they had heart disease -- low cholesterol, low fat," says David E. Bernstein, MD. He's the chief of hepatology and director of the Center for Liver Disease at North Shore LIJ Health System in Long Island, N.Y.
You should be able to eat what you want, with one key exception. Avoid raw or undercooked oysters and other shellfish. They can transmit serious infections that can be more severe if you have hepatitis C.
Along with each meal, pour yourself a tall glass of water. Drink a few more glasses in between meals.
"It's important for the body to remain hydrated," Bernstein says. Eight to 10 glasses of water a day should give your body all the fluid it needs.
Skip the Alcohol
Alcohol, especially in large amounts, can damage the liver. In people with hepatitis C, drinking can speed the process to liver damage.
Even small amounts of alcohol may be risky to the liver. "Our general recommendation is to stay away from alcohol completely," says Kapil Chopra, MD. He is clinical director of hepatology and associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh.
Manage Your Weight
Being overweight can lead to a condition called fatty liver, a buildup of fat in the liver that can lead to cirrhosis.
A combination of diet and exercise should help you control weight gain. If you're having trouble sticking to a healthy weight on your own, ask your doctor for help.
Exercise is just as important now as it was before you learned you have hepatitis C. Not only does it prevent weight gain, but it also maintains body strength.
"As liver disease progresses, it leads to physical deconditioning; i.e., loss of muscle mass and tone," Chopra says. "It's important to maintain a certain level of physical activity to avoid or to counter the deconditioning process."
As long as your disease is still mild, you can follow the government's recommendations and get at least 2 1/2 hours of aerobic exercise a week, plus muscle strengthening exercises twice a week.
If your hepatitis gets more severe, base your exercise level on how you feel and what your doctor recommends.
Be Wary of Supplements
Many people have tried milk thistle and other supplements to treat hepatitis C. So far, there's no solid evidence any of these supplements work.
Some supplements used for weight loss and muscle building could be dangerous because they've been linked to liver failure. Ask your doctor before taking any supplement.
Everyone has stress, but living with a chronic disease can increase it.
"Many patients with hepatitis C tend to be very anxious about their disease and the treatment," Bernstein says. "We recommend diet and exercise for relieving stress. Sometimes they need to see a counselor to talk about things."
Both hepatitis C and the medicine used to treat it can contribute to depression. If you're feeling very sad or overwhelmed, tell your doctor.
Also, consider joining a support group for hepatitis C. You can find one through the American Liver Foundation or a liver center in your area.