Holiday thoughts about hepatitis C and its cures

It’s odd that during the holiday season, after three years after being cured, I still think about hepatitis C. Many years ago, a blood transfusion that saved my life may have been the route to my disease. Or my infection may have been the result of a horrendous incident with bikers. Or perhaps there was transmission in my family, when I was young.

Twelve weeks of two of the earliest direct-acting antivirals led to my SVR in January 2015, but the puzzle of my infection lingered.

I decide to investigate. That led to a book about my journey with the disease and the pharmaceutical research that led to anti-viral cures. This past summer, Greystone Books published Demon in My Blood.

I thought that getting my story out—in a big way—would end my thoughts about the disease. Yet I continue to worry about my liver. It has regressed back to normal, from being near cirrhosis during my infection. That gives me confidence, but not certainty.

I slipped walking on the beach this fall and then felt a pain in my side. It kept me awake at night for more than a month. I wondered whether the pain was not actually a bruise or a torn rib. Might it have been some residual damage to my liver?

Entering the holiday season, I worried about parties I would attend. I had gone back to having a glass of wine now and then about a year ago. But it’s too easy to accept a refilled glass when someone carries a bottle to the table offering another round. Would another glass be good for me? Would there be unknown jiggers of vodka in the punch?

Occasionally I just get pain in the right side. But I have digestive problems unrelated to hep, which can create pain that seems like it’s coming from the liver. My doctor said to see him if the pain becomes steady.

So I continue to worry about hepatitis C, and I keep to a healthy-liver diet. But the good news is and always will be that I’ve been cured of hep C—and that cures are available for everyone, once they are diagnosed.

Every year more people are cured–and 2018 should see a decrease in the number of infected people worldwide. That’s good news for the new year. May you have a happy one.

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Two T’s and the liver

Most people who learn they have hepatitis C become more conscious of what they put into their bodies, especially the substances that are good or bad for the liver.

tumeric and tumeric roots

Tumeric powder comes from a root.

Today I’m thinking of one good and one not-so-good substance, both beginning with the letter T: turmeric and Tylenol. I’m thinking of turmeric because I am replenishing my spice shelf and have come to regard the yellow spice as one of nature’s gifts for liver health. As for Tylenol, after having been cured of hep C for two years, I’m thinking of trying it again.

Tumeric powder, which I use as a spice, comes from the root of the turmeric plant. You can grow it in your garden and keep it there through the winter, if it doesn’t get too cold. Tumeric stays hardy in zones 7b – 11. In the summer, it will grow white, tropical-looking flowers.

Studies have shown that turmeric tends to raise HDL (good cholesterol), which reduces LDL (bad cholesterol) and the strain it puts on the liver. A German study in the medical journal Gut concluded that turmeric inhibits the hep C virus from entering liver cells. My hep is gone, but cholesterol threatens my heart, so I will keep using turmeric. Also, I like its taste in cooking.

Tylenol, which has been shown to be safe for the liver in doctor-recommended doses, can injure the liver with indiscriminate use. Tylenol overdose is among the leading causes of liver failure, and the amount that would cause overdose may not be the same for everyone. Before I was diagnosed with hepatitis C I noticed that Tylenol upset my stomach, so I asked my doctor for other drugs for pain relief. That was lucky for me. Even if Tylenol would have done me no harm, I would have been worried about it throughout my treatment.

Now that I’m better and my liver has regressed, my doctor says there’s nothing wrong with Tylenol. For normal aches and pains that I’d rather avoid, I’m considering it.

Occasional alcohol after hepatitis C

Since my hepatitis C cleared after treatment with direct-acting antivirals, my liver went back to normal. My alcohol habits regressed somewhat too. I stopped drinking entirely when I was infected with hep, but now I’ve gone back to drinking a glass or two of wine on the weekend or when guests come by for dinner. Still, I remain wary about alcohol. I usually enjoy my beverage as a spritzer: half wine, half soda water.

circle and slash over beer mugs mean no drinkingFor those whose hep is yet to be cured even that much alcohol can accelerate the rate of liver damage. By how much? It’s impossible to predict. Yet some averages are known:

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the average man who is infected at age 40 or later and drinks a lot can expect a cirrhotic liver in thirteen years. The slowest progression occurs among non-drinking women under 40 who contract the disease early. It can take 40 years before their disease turns deadly.

But again, those are averages and everyone is different. The best bet for anyone who has hep is to drink no alcohol at all. For those who have been cured, be very cautious.

 

Hep history and food for thought

ancient greek buildingThe Greek physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia was one of the first people to write about hepatitis. In the 2nd century AD he wrote that hep weakened “the liver’s power of nutrition.” It’s wise to take heed of that ancient advice. Every bit of nutrition that goes into your body gets filtered by the liver, but if you’ve contracted hepatitis C, it may not be filtered well. Some substances are easy on the liver and some are not.

At the top of the not list are alcohol and all drugs with liver warnings. The good news is that the list of excellent nutrition for the liver is long–and tasty. Here are a few of my favorite liver-good foods. There are many more:

  • Avocados help the body produce glutathione, which the liver uses for detoxification.
  • Walnuts contain the amino acid arginine, which detoxifies ammonia. These nuts also contain glutathione and omega-3-fatty acids.
  • Eggs contain choline, which protects the liver from toxins and heavy metals. Although too many eggs can cause heart disease, the usual problem is not the eggs. It’s the bacon or sausages they are paired with.

 

Making the call on an April Fools hep C viral count

It’s April Fools Day, and it’s the day I call my nurse about my 24-week viral count. Maybe it’s not the right day to do it. Could the virus have fooled me? Will I learn that my gold-plated treatment with sofosbuvir and simeprevir was really worth less than a penny? There are no pennies circulated in Canada anymore, so the result could be worse than the worst for me.

But April Fools can also bring luck. The weather network predicted rain, but I see sunny skies outside my window. I’m crossing my fingers and will be making that call. Life moves ahead, no matter what you do. The best thing to do is to take charge–even if it’s only through a phone call.

Thoughts for the day

I’ve said on this blog that I’ve been cured of hepatitis C, but I’m actually only 98% sure. I’ve had a 12-week SVR, but my nurse says nothing is absolutely certain until 24 weeks after treatment. That is coming soon.

In the meantime, I’m thinking of some sayings that helped me when  my confidence in a cure was way less than 50%. My dear friend Marla gave me a book on mindfulness. It brought to mind some Baby Boomer slogans that helped me through the uncertainty:

Seize the day

“Today is the first day of the rest of your life.” –Charles Dederich, founder of the Synanon drug rehabilitation program

“Seize the day.” –translation from the Latin “carpe diem” from Quintus Horatius Flaccus, possibly taken from a Babylonian saying

“Be here now.” –Bhagavan Das