Managing Your Health While on Treatment
There are many things you can do to improve your health and feel better while on treatment for your Hepatitis C infection. And by taking good care of yourself, you will increase your chances of be able to take your medication as prescribed.
IMPORTANCE OF DIET AND NUTRITION
Contrary to some claims you might read on the Internet, there is no special “Hepatitis C diet.” However, a healthy diet can improve liver health in a person with Hepatitis C.
A well-balanced diet can lead to better liver functioning and lowered risk of cirrhosis (advanced scarring) of the liver. It can also help your immune system fight off illness. People with Hepatitis C tend to have higher rates of diabetes, but a good diet can help control blood sugar and reduce body fat, thereby lowering your risk for becoming diabetic.
Multiple studies have now demonstrated the benefit of drinking coffee to improve liver health in Hepatitis C. Studies suggest you need to drink more than two cups per day to gain this benefit. However, the research is not strong enough to make a recommendation to start drinking coffee and some people do not tolerate it well. But for those who currently do drink coffee – enjoy!
The important thing is to eat healthy, not be overweight, and avoid all alcohol during treatment. By contrast, a bad diet can sometimes lead to liver problems. Being overweight, drinking too much alcohol, having diabetes, or high levels of cholesterol or blood fats is linked to the buildup of fat in the liver, called “fatty liver” (or steatosis). Over time, having a fatty liver in addition to Hepatitis C will increase the likelihood of developing cirrhosis. The most effective way to lose weight is by combining calorie reduction with increased physical activity.
While following a generally healthy diet and keeping a normal body weight may not seem like a specific treatment for Hepatitis C, it’s a good way of protecting your liver. Following the guidelines for nutrition based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans is all that’s needed unless you have cirrhosis or another medical condition – such as diabetes or kidney disease – that may warrant specific dietary restrictions.
General dietary recommendations include the following:
- Maintain a healthy caloric intake
- Eat whole grain breads and cereals
- Get enough protein (supplement with protein drinks if necessary)
- Eat at least 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day; eating things of varying colors can provide a range of nutrients.
- Limit your intake of salty, sugary and fatty foods
- Drink enough fluids (generally 6-8 glasses day). In addition to water, you can include juice, tea, milk, soup, and frozen fruit bars.
BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT DIETARY SUPPLEMENTS
Certain vitamins and minerals – like vitamins A and D, iron and niacin – can be harmful to your liver in high doses. Before taking a vitamin or supplement, it’s best to talk with your doctor, dietician or nutritionist.
This is a toxin to the liver, even in people without Hepatitis C. Drinking too much can led to cirrhosis and advanced liver disease. The best thing to do is avoid alcohol completely.
IMPORTANCE OF EXERCISE
Exercise is important for many reasons: It can help with weight control, boost your immune system, improve your appetite, and alleviate stress and depression. While the idea of exercising when you’re feeling fatigued may seem counter-intuitive, it can improve your overall sense of well-being.
Getting exercise doesn’t mean you have to go to a gym – walking, gardening and even housework counts. Do things in moderation. Try to have 10-minute blocks of exercise throughout the day. Low-impact exercises such as walking or swimming are the best. You can start with a 10-minute walk at a comfortable pace, take rest breaks if needed, and slowly increase your activity level over time. It’s a good idea to talk with your doctor before starting a diet and exercise program.
IMPORTANCE OF REDUCING STRESS AND MANAGING ANGER
Everyone has stress in life at one point or another – work, finances, children, family issues – are all examples of common stressors. Our bodies are designed to handle stress to keep us safe from danger or get us through a difficult day. However, stress can become a problem when it’s ongoing or intense.
Chronic stress negatively affects the immune system and contributes to other issues such as high blood pressure, heart disease, sleeping problems and substance abuse. Having a chronic illness, like Hepatitis C, can be physically and emotionally stressful. Undergoing Hepatitis C treatment can add additional stressors, depending on the level of side effects you experience. When people are chronically stressed it’s also common to feel angry.
Feeling anger when first diagnosed with an illness is a common reaction. You might have had thoughts like “I don’t deserve this!” and “Why did this happen to me?” While these reactions are quite normal, anger that becomes chronic and/or turns into rage is not. Very simply, it can ruin your relationships and rob you of the energy you need to live your life well.
Learning how to manage stress and anger is an integral part of managing your Hepatitis C infection and its treatment. Below are some strategies to help you:
- Find ways to relax and quiet your mind. Some people find meditation, prayer, visualization or massage to be helpful.
- Do something physical as a release. Dancing, biking, walking, yoga or exercise of any kind can keep you healthy and lessen stress and anger.
- Participate in a Hepatitis C support group.
- Help others; sometimes helping others is the best way to forget about your own problems.
- Set reasonable expectations for yourself. Deal with issues one task at a time. What must I accomplish today? If it’s not that important, cross it off the list.
- Learn to let others help you when you need it.
- Spend time with people who have a positive outlook on life and limit your exposure to people and places that induce negativity.
- Attend a stress and/or anger management class. These are often offered by employers, health insurance companies or community centers.
- Find ways to laugh. Whether you see a funny movie or spend time with a good buddy, remember that laughter is therapeutic for both body and mind.
- Try to put a positive spin on things and don’t sweat the small stuff. Practice positive thinking by replacing negative thoughts with messages of hope and affirmation.
- Discuss your feelings with people you trust. Sometimes others can offer a different perspective or solution to something that’s on your mind. Or consider seeking the help of a mental health professional.
This page has been updated and medically reviewed September 2015.