Every time I go for a blood test, the doctor comes back with results looking very concerned. Usually I interrupt her or him before they get a chance to give me "the hepatitis chat", and simply say, "I don't have hepatitis - I have Gilberts' Syndrome" and then we both laugh with some relief.
You see, I always have significantly elevated bile readings in my blood. I am (from birth) lacking the enzyme which removes bile from the blood after fat digestion, which has been labeled Gilberts' Syndrome. It's thought to be a genetic condition which occurs via DNA change after someone has healed from tuberculosis, and then goes on to have children.
And so, since my first official diagnosis in my late 20s,I have been awake and aware of liver function, more than most people. And consequently, hepatitis. It's compounded by the fact that I live in a country, Thailand, which has high levels of hepatitis; and I also had such a horrendous reaction to the first of the 3 hepatitis vaccines (3 weeks bedridden and bright yellow with jaundice) that the doctor in Australia told me NEVER to allow anyone to vaccinate me for Hep, ever again. I obviously did not complete the course of hepatitis vaccines.
What exactly IS Hepatitis?
Hepatitis is an inflammation of the liver. The condition can be self-limiting or can progress to fibrosis (scarring), cirrhosis or liver cancer. Hepatitis viruses are the most common cause of hepatitis in the world but other infections, toxic substances (e.g. alcohol, certain drugs), and autoimmune diseases can also cause hepatitis.
There are 5 main hepatitis viruses, referred to as types A, B, C, D and E. These 5 types are of greatest concern because of the burden of illness and death they cause and the potential for outbreaks and epidemic spread. In particular, types B and C lead to chronic disease in hundreds of millions of people and, together, are the most common cause of liver cirrhosis and cancer.
Hepatitis A and E are typically caused by ingestion of contaminated food or water. Hepatitis B, C and D usually occur as a result of parenteral contact with infected body fluids. Common modes of transmission for these viruses include receipt of contaminated blood or blood products, invasive medical procedures using contaminated equipment and for hepatitis B transmission from mother to baby at birth, from family member to child, and also by sexual contact. Source
How common is Hepatitis?
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that in 2015:
- 257 million people worldwide had hepatitis B
- 71 million people worldwide had hepatitis C
Both of these types of hepatitis can lead to lifelong infection. WHO estimated that during the same year, 1.34 million people died from liver cancer, cirrhosis, and other conditions caused by chronic viral hepatitis.
Hepatitis A and hepatitis E infections do not result in chronic infection but can be severe and cause liver damage and death. Source
The prevalence of Hepatitis B in Thailand (where I live) is 5%-7% of the population; Hepatitis C is between 2 and 5% of the population - according to the World Health Organization's 2015 statistics. It should be noted that much progress is being made in Thailand to reduce those numbers in very recent years.
The World Health Organization would want you to believe that hepatitis remains confined neatly to geographic boundaries in the developing world, and they even publish a neat little map showing the "at risk" areas.
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Yellow Book 2020: Health Information for International Travel. New York: Oxford University Press; 2017.
Let is be said that in the last 5 years with much cheaper low cost air travel in-to-from the developing world these out-dated ideas of geographic containment will have been blown out of the water. I expect their next published global data (in 2021-22) to be markedly different in geographical spread.
So, apart from limiting exposure to paracetamol, hard drugs and alcohol, what else can you do to help prevent Hepatitis?
- You can observe all the same rules that we have in place for Covid-19 when you travel to higher risk areas. You are FAR more likely to get hepatitis in many parts of the developing world, than Covid-19. Wash your hands, always use your own RE-USEABLE straw and be careful about who you swap bodily fluids with - whether that be using a mask on a crowded train in China, or talking about health history with a prospective lover.
- You can ensure your immune system is working optimally - sleep well, great cardio exercise, healthy balanced diet, manage your stress.
- Fast and detox your body regularly - intermittent fasting is a great way to keep your liver and immune system in A1 shape.
- You can use liver-supporting herbs to maintain optimal liver function, especially if you are immune-compromised, may have been exposed to the Hepatitis virus or, indeed, been a little reckless in your younger years with alcohol and drugs. The Hepatitis symptoms do not necessarily manifest immediately, and your lifestyle 20 years ago CAN impact liver function today.
If you choose to be vaccinated for hepatitis, please do your homework very thoroughly. The Australian doctor telling me I was "one of the unfortunate 0.03% of people who have a dramatic and negative reaction to the vaccine" was hardly comforting. I was negligent in doing my homework - she was highly negligent in informing me of the risks, particularly in light of knowing my less-than-perfect liver function history.
So, Every Second Herb Is Claimed to Be Hepatoprotective. What Does The Clinical Science Say? The Results may Surprise You.
1. Asian Liquorice - Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch
Image by gate74 from Pixabay
Glycyrrhizin, an active component in Glycyrrhiza uralensis Fisch, has been used widely as a folk medicine agent for hepatitis in China and Japan. In Japan, glycyrrhizin injection has been used as an approved preparation for allergy inflammation since 1948 and for chronic hepatitis since 1979. Source
2. Gale of The Wind - Phyllanthus niruri L
A systematic review of 22 randomized trials (n = 1,947) on using Phyllanthus niruri L for treating chronic Hepatitis B showed that Phyllanthus niruri L were effective in clearance of serum HBsAg, HBeAg and HBV DNA without serious side-effects. When compared with interferon (IFN) and placebo, the therapeutic effects of combination treatment of Phyllanthus niruri L and IFN was better. Source
3. Japanese Knotweed - Polygonum cuspidatum
According to a recent meta-analysis review study, Polygonum cuspidatum Willd. ex Spreng. is one of the most frequently used herbs in the traditional Chinese medicine for chronic hepatitis treatment . In vitro studies also confirmed that the water extract of Polygonum cuspidatum Willd. ex Spreng. at the concentration of 30 μg/mL could suppress the expression of Hepatitis B e antigen (HBeAg). Source
Whoa!! What about the old favourite liver herb, Milk thistle?
Hmmmm.... not in the top 3. Why? See for yourself.
Milk Thistle - Silybum marianum (L.) Gaertn
Silymarin is a time-honored herbal remedy for chronic liver diseases worldwide. Silibinin is the major active compound in silymarin, which has been widely studied for its hepatoprotective effects and anti-cancer effects both in vitro and in vivo. The main problems in the clinical application of silymarin include poor solubility and bioavailability. Source
So - if you are one of oh-so-many western people who think milk thistle is the go-to (only?) herb for liver protection and improving liver function, the science doesn't really bear that out and there are better herbal options. Starting with a cup of very pleasant liquorice root tea. Me? I make it with fresh ginger and it's a regular go-to.
Last thought on protecting yourself from Hepatitis or improving liver function? Food. #foodasmedicine
Best foods for Great Liver Function?
Best Foods: Oatmeal, Broccoli, Organic Coffee, Green Tea, Almonds, Leafy Greens, Blueberries, Turmeric, Cumin, Oregano, Rosemary, Sage, Grapefruit, Cranberries, Grapes, Beetroot, High quality cold-pressed plant oils.
Things to seriously cut down or avoid altogether? Refined sugar, White table salt, Processed fast foods, Foods with chemical preservatives, flavours & colours, Fried foods and Trans fats.
Hepatitis isn't just an exotic, tropical or developing-world disease - it's a highly contagious, often fatal disease that is real and surprisingly prevalent in our increasingly mobile and global world.
Sadly, World Hepatitis Day is Still Needed. Please help spread the word.
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