Taking Care of Your Liver
Whether you have liver damage because of a viral hepatitis infection or for any other reason, talk with your healthcare provider about liver health and consider the following:
- Get vaccinated against hepatitis A and hepatitis B if you don't already have the antibodies.
- Don't share:
- drug paraphernalia (needles, syringes, cookers, cotton, water, snorting straws);
- toothbrushes, razors, manicure implements, and other items that can retain blood.
- Consider reducing or stopping your alcohol intake. Alcohol significantly increases the risk of developing cirrhosis and liver cancer.
- If you have chronic HBV or HCV, find a doctor who understands viral hepatitis -- a gastroenterologist (digestive system specialist), hepatologist (liver specialist), and some infectious disease and primary care physicians. If you're considering treatment, a team approach, including access to a psychiatrist, is best.
- Get regular health check-ups, including liver enzyme tests. Keep track of all appropriate test results -- liver enzyme levels, viral load, and genotype.
- Eat a balanced diet of fresh vegetables, fruits, beans, whole grains, and lean meats.
- Cut down on foods with high salt, sugar or fat content: cheese, fast food, fried food, and processed foods (cookies, cakes, frozen dinners, packaged foods with long shelf lives, "instant" foods).
- Get a healthy balance of protein in your diet -- too much protein can stress your liver.
- Drink lots of fluids -- especially water -- to flush toxins from your body.
- Get regular exercise and develop a stress reduction plan.
- Acetaminophen (Tylenol and other non-aspirin pain relievers), particularly in large amounts (2,000/mg day), are toxic to the liver. Acetaminophen is in many medications, so read the labels carefully. Acetaminophen and alcohol together can cause severe liver damage.
- Avoid high doses of vitamins A, D, E, and K.
- Herbs and herbal products that are sometimes used to promote liver health include: milk thistle (silymarin), astragalus, dandelion, bupleurum, garlic, licorice root, artichoke, thioctic (alpha-lipoic) acid, and ginkgo biloba. All substances, including herbs, can have side effects and may interact with other drugs you are taking, including anti-HIV medications. Talk with your healthcare provider or pharmacist before using and complementary or alternative therapies -- including over-the-counter ones.
- Avoid herbs that are known to be toxic to the liver: peppermint, mistletoe, yerba tea, sassafras, germander, chaparral, skull cap, nutmeg, valerian, Jin Bu Juan, comfrey (bush tea), pennyroyal, and tansy ragwortsenna.
- Don't take iron supplements unless advised to by your healthcare provider -- too much iron can be hard on the liver.