On 28 July, World Hepatitis Day aims to raise global awareness about the spread of viral Hepatitis. This month, Selfmed sheds light on this infamous liver illness and offers advice to help us take better care of our livers.
The spread of liver inflammation
Globally, approximately 240 million people are infected with Hepatitis, which is spread mostly through contact with blood and bodily fluids (Types B, C and D) or through consumption of affected foods and water (Types A and E).
Hepatitis is one of the main viruses to attack the liver, causing inflammation that kills off vital liver cells and can lead to liver damage, cancer or even complete liver failure.
According to research, South Africa has one of the highest rates of liver cancer in the world, strongly linked to the spread of Hepatitis, and particularly the Hepatitis B virus (HBV). This particular strain is 100 times more infectious than the AIDS virus, yet it can be prevented through modern treatments and vaccinations.
In fact, if proper care is sought, Hepatitis can be successfully treated, although certain strains may never fully be abolished from the body.
Certain Hepatitis symptoms may go unnoticed for a number of years but in advanced cases, sufferers are known to experience extreme fatigue, nausea, abdominal pain, fevers or jaundice. These may be clear warning signs that your liver is not functioning properly. If you are experiencing any of the above (or a combination of symptoms) please do contact your doctor as soon as possible.
Pay careful attention to your body – know what is normal and when you are experiencing an irregular symptom. A simple physical exam and blood test may determine if your liver is infected or not.
The multifunctional liver
Everything we consume travels through the body’s digestive system and will eventually make its way through the liver where it is either converted into fuel for the body or eliminated.
As the largest internal organ, the liver acts as your body’s biggest detoxifying agent. It performs over 500 functions, from eliminating toxins and storing glucose as energy to fighting off infections. Without it, we would not be alive.
Inflammation of the liver (Hepatitis) can be caused by a number of factors including the consumption of too much alcohol, autoimmune disorders, adverse drug reactions or contact with a virus such as HBV.
Proper care of the liver and prevention of known liver illnesses are therefore essential if we plan to live long and healthy lives.
How can you protect your liver?
Even after a Hepatitis diagnosis, there are ways to help you protect your liver and prevent further damage. A healthy lifestyle, with proper nutrition and regular exercise, is essential to promote a healthy liver.
Your diet should include anti-inflammatory foods to help minimise the effects of liver inflammation. Fresh foods such as berries, brazil nuts and even broccoli are nutritionally beneficial as these contain various anti-viral properties and minerals needed to fight off illness. Fish is also an excellent natural anti-inflammatory protein which contains the enzymes needed to detoxify the body. Fish oil capsules can also be taken daily for added benefit.
Drink plenty of water – hydration is vital to flush out toxins from the body. Add green tea to your daily consumption too – up to four or five cups per day may do wonders to raise your antioxidant levels and help detoxify your liver.
What should you avoid?
Alcohol consumption can wreak havoc on the liver. For those infected with Hepatitis, it is advised to completely cut out alcohol from your diet, as well as wheat and gluten which are highly inflammatory. Avoid junk food, saturated fats (refined oils) and sugar, which can also have a negative impact on your organs.
The virus does not spread casually and you will not ‘catch’ Hepatitis from a sneeze or cough. Avoid situations where bodily fluids can be mixed, such as unprotected sex or the sharing of sharp objects such as razors or earrings. If you have been diagnosed with Hepatitis, and especially HBV, it is advised to get the members of your household tested and vaccinated against this disease. Inoculations are readily available through our local clinics.
Knowledge is power
This year, the World Health Organisation has put together a worldwide strategy with the goal of eliminating viral Hepatitis as a public health threat by 2030. In the near future, it is the hope of the WHO to create even greater global awareness and to break the stigma of Hepatitis, especially in developing nations.
You can help by educating yourself and others regarding the spread and prevention of this illness. If in doubt, get tested at your local clinic and find out about possible vaccinations and treatments that are available today.