Maintaining good physical and mental health will assist in managing the symptoms of hepatitis C and B, and can help reduce the risks of serious complications. Some ways of maintaining good health include:
- Hepatitis A and B vaccination
- Maintaining a healthy body weight.
- Reducing or ceasing alcohol consumption
- Stopping smoking, including marijuana
- Adopting a low-fat diet
- Eating regular, well-balanced meals
- Drinking plenty of fresh water (two litres a day)
- Ensuring adequate, regular and good quality sleep/rest
- Managing stress levels, and
- Regular moderate levels of exercise.
There is a higher risk of serious complications, including cirrhosis, if you have hepatitis C or B and you drink alcohol. If you have cirrhosis, it is recommended that you do not drink any alcohol. Rates of fibrosis, development of cirrhosis and incidences of liver cancer have been shown to be significantly higher in people living with hepatitis and who consume more than the recommended safe amount of alcohol. For this reason, it is strongly recommended that alcohol is not consumed by people living with hepatitis. For those who choose to drink, it is stressed that a maximum of seven standard drinks be consumed per week, spread evenly throughout the week.
Almost all drugs are processed by the liver. Even though some are more toxic than others, all of them will stress the liver to some degree. Smoking tobacco and illicit drugs like marijuana can also increase the progression of liver disease, the risk of heart disease, and reduce the effectiveness of hepatitis C treatment.
The use of anabolic-androgenic steroids can also have a negative impact on the liver. Abuse of steroids has been linked to jaundice, liver tumours and liver cancer. In addition, if injecting is the route of administration, users must ensure clean equipment is used in order to reduce the risk of contracting other blood-borne viruses such as HIV, hepatitis B or another genotype of hepatitis C.
People experiencing difficulties stopping or reducing their use of alcohol and other drugs should consider talking to their doctor about available options. People in the ACT may call ACT Health’s ‘Community Health Intake 24 hour helpline’ on (02) 6207 9977 for advice and support from Alcohol and Other Drug Program professionals.
The negative impact of tobacco smoking on the body has been proven time and time again; however for people living with hepatitis, its impact could be even greater. Cigarettes contain over four thousand different chemical compounds which are absorbed into the blood stream through the lung walls. One of the liver’s most important jobs is to filter out toxins from the blood, effectively cleaning it so optimal nutrients and oxygen can be delivered to the whole body. If the blood cannot be adequately cleansed, toxins can damage other organs, including the brain.
There is some evidence to suggest that smoking can speed up the progression to serious liver disease, leading to cirrhosis earlier than otherwise expected. Smoking can also reduce the effectiveness of hepatitis C treatment. Dry mouth and gum conditions experienced by many people living with the virus can be worsened with smoking. Higher rates of certain cancers have also been noted in people living with hepatitis C who smoke.
People experiencing difficulties stopping smoking should consider calling the Quitline on 13 78 48. The Quitline is a confidential telephone advice and information service for the cost of a local call from landlines.
A healthy diet helps maintain good overall health, as well as liver and immune system health. Regular moderate levels of exercise are also important to help maintain a healthy body weight. It is strongly recommended that people living with hepatitis adopt a balanced, low fat diet incorporating fresh fruit and vegetables and lean meat such as chicken or fish. People living with viral hepatitis in the ACT region can contact Hepatitis ACT for information and resources about living well with hepatitis C and B.
Infection with more than one virus is commonly known as co-infection. It is possible for people to be co-infected with two or three of the hepatitis viruses or with HIV and one or more of the hepatitis viruses. Health outcomes can be worse for people co-infected, including making treatment more challenging. People living with a viral hepatitis infection or HIV should take measures to prevent co-infection.