You are your best ally against hepatitis C. Lifestyle changes can help your medication work better and help you look and feel your best. Even small changes can pay off.
You can help yourself in body, mind and soul. Here’s how:
Drinking when you have hepatitis C is like pouring gasoline on a fire. Alcohol is toxic to the liver, as is Hep C. Together, they can put liver damage on the fast track.
Alcohol makes it harder for your Hep C treatment to rid your body of the virus. You may also find it harder to take your medication as prescribed if you drink.
If you are waiting for a transplant, you must not drink at all. Talk to your doctor if you can’t stop on your own. They may suggest alcohol treatment or counseling.
Drink plenty of water, especially if you are on Hep C antiviral treatment. Staying hydrated can help you avoid some side effects like dry skin and mouth.
More water helped Boston’s Bob Rice when he was treated with Hep C. Late in the day he got a headache. His nurse told him to double the amount of water he drinks every day.
“I did that and the headache went away,” says Rice.
Aim for at least 6 to 8 glasses, says Dr. Alexea Gaffney-Adams, an infectious disease specialist in Smithtown, NY. Drink two glasses of water for every caffeinated beverage you drink, she adds.
To get more water each day:
If you are overweight or obese, or have conditions such as type 2 diabetes, fat can build up in your liver and cause fatty liver disease. Over time, this and hepatitis C can increase the likelihood of cirrhosis (bad scarring).
According to Gaffney-Adams, losing 5 to 10% of your total body weight can help. The best way to do this is to cut calories and exercise.
Good nutrition can help you lose weight and improve your health. It can improve your liver function and reduce the risk of cirrhosis. Eating the right diet can boost your immune system and also reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
A healthy diet includes:
Exercise leads to good health. It helps you lose pounds, improves your mood and fights fatigue.
Talk to your doctor before starting an exercise program. If you get the green light, start slowly. Get 5 or 10 minutes of moderate exercise like walking. Repeat this 2 or 3 times a day.
Remember that the best exercise is what you will do. So if you hate walking but love dancing, put on your dancing shoes!
Make sure you get enough sleep. There is a connection between poor sleep and health problems such as obesity, heart disease and mood disorders.
The goal is 7 to 9 hours a night. To make more eyes:
If you need a nap during the day, go ahead and snooze. But keep it short, like 20 minutes. More naps can interfere with nighttime sleep.
“Rest when you need rest,” says Rice, who received a life-saving liver transplant in 2010 before his virus was completely gone in 2015.
Some supplements can harm your liver, especially if it’s already damaged. These include:
St. John’s wort can affect how some antiviral hepatitis C medicines work.
Tell your doctor about all vitamins, supplements, and over-the-counter medications you’re taking to make sure they’re safe.
Groups, either online or in person, can be a gold mine for people with Hep C. You can learn how to live well with the virus, learn how to deal with side effects of medication and also share your experiences.
Rice says his doctor suggested he join a group in 2006.
“I started isolating myself because I was pretty sick at the time,” he says. “I didn’t want to be around people. I didn’t want to talk to people about how I felt.”
The support group has made a huge difference.
“I could go to a meeting or call someone in the group and just talk to them… and get suggestions on how they got through certain things,” says Rice.
Even after his transplant, he continued to attend the meetings. “It’s because there was always someone walking through that door going through things that I’d been through before,” he says.
Ask your care team about support groups in your area. The American Liver Foundation has an online community that can help.
Living with Hep C and all of life’s other demands can be stressful. Constant stress can affect your whole body, including your immune system.
Finding a way to relax can relieve stress. Some ways you can do this are:
Limiting stress is key to managing any chronic illness, 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 2 years.”
Learning to let things go helps with stress, says Rice.
“My motto is if I can’t control it, I just have to run away.”