You are your most important ally against hepatitis C. Lifestyle changes can make your medications work better and help you look and feel good. Even small changes can pay off big.
You can help yourself in mind, body, and spirit. Here's how:
Drinking when you have hepatitis C is like throwing gasoline on a fire. Alcohol is toxic to the liver, and so is hep C. Together, they can put liver damage on a fast track.
Booze makes it harder for your hep C treatment to rid your body of the virus. You may also find it harder to take your medicines as directed if you drink.
If you're waiting for a transplant, you must not drink at all. Talk to your doctor if you can't stop on your own. They may suggest alcohol treatment or counseling.
Drink plenty of water, especially if you're on hep C antiviral treatment. Good hydration may help you avoid some side effects, like dry skin and mouth.
More water helped Bob Rice, of Boston, when he was on hep C treatment. He started getting headaches late in the day. His nurse said to double the amount of water he was drinking each day.
“I did that and the headaches went away,” says Rice.
Aim for at least 6 to 8 glasses, says Alexea Gaffney-Adams, MD, an infectious disease specialist in Smithtown, NY. Down 2 glasses of water for every caffeinated beverage you drink, she adds.
To get more water each day:
- Keep chilled water in easy reach.
- Set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to sip water every hour.
- Add a slice of lemon, lime, or cucumber to add flavor.
- Eat foods with lots of water, like watermelon.
Watch Your Weight
If you're overweight, obese, or have conditions like type 2 diabetes, fat can deposit in your liver and cause fatty liver disease. Over time, that and hepatitis C can raise your chance of cirrhosis (bad scarring).
Losing 5% to 10% of your total body weight can help, Gaffney-Adams says. The best way to do it is to cut calories and get moving.
A good diet can help you lose weight and improve your health. It can make your liver work better and lower your risk of cirrhosis. Eating right can boost your immune system and lower your chance of type 2 diabetes, too.
A healthy diet includes:
- Whole-grain breads and cereals
- Five servings of fruits and veggies a day
- Lean proteins like chicken and fish
- Foods low in salt, sugar, and fat
Move Your Body
Exercise leads to good health. It helps you lose pounds, improves your mood, and fights fatigue.
Talk to your doctor before you start an exercise routine. If you get the green light, start out slowly. Do 5 or 10 minutes of moderate exercise like walking. Repeat this 2 or 3 times a day.
Remember the best exercise is the one you'll do. So if you hate walking but love dancing, put on your dancin' shoes!
Make sure you're getting enough sleep. There's a link between poor sleep and health problems like obesity, heart disease, and mood disorders.
The goal is 7 to 9 hours a night. To get more shut-eye:
- Keep your bedroom cool.
- Go to bed at the same time each night.
- Avoid caffeine in the evening.
- Turn off the phone, computer, and other electronics an hour or two before bed.
If you need a nap during the day, go ahead and snooze. But keep it brief, about 20 minutes. Napping more than that can mess with nighttime sleep.
“Rest when you need rest,” says Rice, who received a life-saving liver transplant in 2010 before his virus was completely gone in 2015. “When your body is telling you that you need to rest, you need to rest,” he says.
Be Wary of Supplements
Some supplements can hurt your liver, especially if it's already damaged. These include:
- Shark cartilage
St. John's wort can affect how some hep C antivirals work.
Tell your doctor about all vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter drugs you take to make sure they're safe.
Groups, either online or in person, can be a gold mine for people with hep C. You can learn ways to live well with the virus, discover how to manage drug side effects, and share your experiences, too.
Rice says his doctor suggested he join a group in 2006.
“I started isolating myself because I was pretty sick at the time," he says. "I didn't want to be around people. I didn't want to talk to people about how I was feeling.”
The support group made a huge difference.
“I could go to a meeting or call someone from the group and just talk to them … and hear suggestions about how they got through certain things,” says Rice.
Even after his transplant, he kept going to meetings. “That's because there was always someone walking through that door that was going through things that I had gone through prior,” he says.
Ask your care team about support groups in your area. The American Liver Foundation has an online community that may help.
Living with hep C and all the other demands of life can be stressful. Constant stress can affect your whole body, including your immune system.
Finding a way to relax can melt away the stress. Some ways you can do this include:
- Mind-body techniques like yoga or tai chi
- Deep breathing or meditation
- Connecting with friends
Limiting stress is key to managing any chronic disease, Rice says. He believes a very stressful period in his life made his liver disease worse.
“I went from stage 2 cirrhosis to full-blown cirrhosis in less than a 2-year period.”
Learning to let things go helps with stress, Rice says.
“My motto is if I can't control it, I just need to just walk away from it.”