Of the nearly 300 million people worldwide who live with liver inflammation, many are unaware they carry the disease. This is a troubling statistic, considering hepatitis causes 1.3 million deaths each year, including 2 in 3 liver cancer deaths.
Hepatitis is characterized by the liver becoming inflamed due to exposure to viruses or toxins. The disease is often acute, but when the body is unable to fight and shed the infection, the condition becomes chronic and can lead to life-threatening complications such as cirrhosis, or scarring of the liver, cancer and liver failure.
Hepatitis Types and Causes
While many of us only associate the disease with consuming contaminated raw foods like shellfish — a condition caused by the hepatitis A virus (HAV) — liver inflammation can result from other viruses as well. Those other viruses include:
- Hepatitis B (HBV) — transmitted through exchange of bodily fluids
- Hepatitis C (HCV) — from direct contact with blood and infected needles
- Hepatitis D (HDV) — occurring in conjunction with HBV
- Hepatitis E (HEV) — a waterborne virus seen in areas with poor sanitation
Non-infectious forms of hepatitis include alcoholic and autoimmune. In the latter, the immune system attacks the liver as mistakenly harmful.
Many hepatitis sufferers have no clear symptoms, while some report a general feeling of malaise and fatigue along with reduced appetite. Hepatitis A can mimic a stomach virus, while the C virus, when chronic, can cause jaundice, fever and muscle aches. Up to this point, its presence can go unknown for years and is often first detected during a physical exam when the area above the abdomen feels tender or swollen when palpated.
Diagnostics include physical exam, blood tests to measure liver function as well as the presence of antibodies common to autoimmune conditions, imaging to view internal organs and ultimately biopsy of the liver.
Follow Your Gut to Hepatitis Treatment and Prevention
Acute viral hepatitis generally resolves on its own, with some types responding to antiviral medication. The goal in treatment is to prevent it from becoming chronic and leading to more serious health problems. Research suggests a link exists between hepatitis C and gut dysbiosis, a condition that occurs when bacteria in the gastrointestinal track become imbalanced.
One 2018 study analyzed and compared fecal microbiota of healthy individuals with those of patients infected with HCV and found diminished bacterial diversity in those with the virus. Gastroenterologists and microbiologists have in recent years studied, through clinical testing, how an unbalanced microbiome — which can cause inflammation and a host of chronic conditions — can be therapeutically restored with probiotics and prebiotics. Thus, treating acute forms of hepatitis with all-natural, live probiotic strains such as beneficial lactobacillus serves to rebalance the gut, potentially boosting efficacy of antiviral therapy, This ultimately reduces the progression and complications associated with chronic liver disease.
The best way to prevent contracting viral hepatitis is to practice sensible hygiene and avoid exposure. More important is to know how to manage its progression and prevent the onset of liver disease. Steatosis, or fat deposits in the liver, occurs with nearly half of patients infected with the C virus. Fat accumulation in the liver combined with inflammation can lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). This stems from a cluster of metabolic disruptions such as hypertension, high cholesterol and pre-diabetes, affecting mostly older, obese individuals.
Maintaining a healthy weight through exercise and a Mediterranean or mainly plant-based diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and good fats can go a long way in boosting the immune system and warding off disease. In addition, all-natural probiotic supplements that also contain a prebiotic for optimizing good bacteria in the colon have been shown to improve metabolic efficiency and encourage natural, effective weight loss.