You are your most important ally against hepatitis C. Lifestyle changes can make your medications work better and help you look and feel better. Even small changes can pay off big.
You can help yourself in mind, body, and spirit. Here’s how:
stop drinking alcohol
Drinking when you have hepatitis C is like throwing gasoline on a fire. Alcohol is toxic to the liver, as well as liver C. Together, they can put liver damage on a fast track.
Alcohol makes it difficult for hepatitis C treatment to get rid of the virus from your body. You may also find it difficult to take your medications as directed if you have been drinking.
If you are waiting to transplant, you should not drink at all. Talk to your doctor if you can’t stop on your own. They may suggest alcohol therapy or counseling.
Drink plenty of water, especially if you are taking an anti-hepatitis C treatment. Good hydration may help you avoid some side effects, such as dry skin and mouth.
More water helped Bob Rice, of Boston, when he was receiving hepatitis 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 it and the headache went away,” says Rice.
Aim for at least 6 to 8 cups, says Alexea Gaffney-Adams, MD, an infectious disease specialist in Smithtown, New York. She adds that two glasses of water for every caffeinated beverage you drink.
To get more water every day:
- Keep cold water on hand.
- Set an alarm on your phone to remind yourself to drink water every hour.
- Add a slice of lemon, lime or cucumber to add flavor.
- Eat foods that contain a lot of water, such as watermelon.
Watch your weight
If you are overweight or obese, or have diseases such as type 2 diabetes, fats can be deposited in your liver and cause fatty liver disease. Over time, this in addition to hepatitis C can increase the chances of developing cirrhosis (bad scarring).
Gaffney-Adams says losing 5% to 10% of your total body weight can help. The best way to do this is to cut calories and get moving.
A good diet can help you lose weight and improve your health. It can make the liver work better and reduce the risk of cirrhosis. Eating right can boost your immune system and reduce your chances of developing type 2 diabetes as well.
A healthy diet includes:
- Whole-grain bread and cereal
- Five servings of fruits and vegetables 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 weight, improves your mood, and fights fatigue.
Talk to your doctor before beginning an exercise routine. If you get the green light, start slowly. Do 5 or 10 minutes of moderate exercise, such as walking. Repeat this 2 or 3 times a day.
Remember that the best exercise is the one you will do. So if you hate walking but love to dance, put on those dancing shoes!
Make sure you get enough sleep. There is a link between poor sleep and health problems such as obesity, heart disease and mood disorders.
The goal is 7 to 9 hours a night. To get more sleep:
- Keep your bedroom cool.
- Go to bed at the same time every night.
- Avoid caffeine in the evening.
- Turn off your phone, computer, and other electronic devices an hour or two before bed.
If you need to nap during the day, keep taking a nap. But keep it brief, about 20 minutes. Napping more than that can mess with a night’s sleep.
“Rest when you need to rest,” says Rice, who underwent a life-saving liver transplant in 2010 before the virus was completely gone in 2015.
Beware of supplements
Some supplements can harm your liver, especially if it’s already damaged. These include:
- Shark cartilage
St. John’s wort can affect how some antivirals work.
Tell your doctor about all vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter medications you’re taking to make sure they are safe.
Groups, both online and in person, can be a goldmine for people infected with the hepatitis C virus. You can learn ways to live well with the virus, discover how to manage medication side effects, and share your experiences as well.
Rice says his doctor suggested he join a group in 2006.
He says, “I started isolating myself because I was very ill at the time. I didn’t want to be with 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 on how they can get past certain things,” Rice says.
Even after he was transplanted, he continued to go to meetings. “That’s because there was always someone going through that door and they were going through things I’ve been through before,” 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 hepatitis C and all the other demands of life can be stressful. Ongoing stress can affect your entire body, including your immune system.
Finding a way to relax can relieve stress. Some of the ways you can do this include:
- Mind and body techniques such as yoga or tai chi
- Deep breathing or meditation
- Communicate with friends
Reducing stress is key to controlling any chronic disease, says Rice. He believes that 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 two years.”
Learning to let things go helps relieve stress, says Rice.
“My motto is that if I can’t control it, I just need to get away from it.”