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.