Cirrhosis Self Help

Cirrhosis is a disease of the liver. Scar tissue replaces normal tissue and blocks the flow of blood and nutrients. It kills about 26,000 Americans each year and is the twelfth leading cause of death. The most common causes of cirrhosis are alcoholism and hepatitis.

Some people have diseases that may lead to cirrhosis, which include alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency, hemochromatosis, Wilson’s disease, galactosemia, and glycogen storage diseases. Nonalcoholic steatohepatitis (NASH) is a condition where fat accumulates in the liver and eventually causes scarring.

NASH is usually associated with diabetes, protein malnutrition, obesity, heart disease, and treatment with steroid medications. Blocked bile ducts can also cause cirrhosis, called biliary cirrhosis. Because the liver is our body’s main filtering system for drugs and toxins, bad reactions to them may also lead to cirrhosis.

Overdosing with vitamin A supplements can also cause cirrhosis. Vitamin A toxicity in the liver is accentuated in an alcoholic. About one-third of people with cirrhosis have no symptoms during the initial stages of the disease. Loss of liver function may be picked up on routine blood testing.

As the scarring progresses, liver function begins to fail. People with cirrhosis may experience some of the following symptoms: exhaustion and fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, light-colored stools, weakness, weight loss, abdominal pain, or spiderlike blood vessels that break out on the skin.

Cirrhosis may also lead to water retention, bruising and bleeding, jaundice, itching, gallstones, increased sensitivity to medication and environmental contaminants, increased insulin resistance, diabetes, liver cancer, osteoporosis, impotence, and infection in other organs.

The scarring caused by cirrhosis cannot be reversed. But treatment can help stop or slow the disease progression. The liver is remarkably able to recuperate when we eliminate the factors that hurt it. Many find that with a nutritious diet, rest, and supplements, they can begin to feel healthy again.

It is critical that you stop drinking all alcoholic beverages if you are diagnosed with cirrhosis. Alcohol is a direct liver poison. It is known to cause cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure and generates a large need for antioxidant nutrients, such as vitamin E, selenium, vitamin C, and N-acetyl cysteine.

Alcoholics are notoriously deficient in B-complex vitamins. If possible, stop using hazardous chemicals. If you do need to use them, protect your skin, be in a well-ventilated area, and wear a breathing apparatus. If your work involves use of paint, solvents, cleaning products, or other chemicals, it’s probably time to look for a different job.

Research indicates that many people with cirrhosis have increased intestinal permeability, which can lead to infection and problems elsewhere in the body. Nutrients such as glutamine, quercetin, and probiotics can help heal a leaky gut. Methionine, an amino acid, from our food is metabolized in the liver into S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe).

People with cirrhosis have problems metabolizing methionine. SAMe increases glutathione levels, an important antioxidant for detoxification. SAMe is an important methyl donor and is used as a supplement for people with elevated homocysteine levels, heart disease, joint diseases, and depression.

Healing Options

  • Avoid alcoholic beverages. Alcohol is damaging to the liver. Don’t drink at all if you have hepatitis or cirrhosis. If you are an alcoholic, you might find Alcoholics Anonymous or a residential program to be of benefit. Support helps ease the way.
  • Eat lots of fruits and vegetables. They contain antioxidant nutrients, vitamins, and minerals that help support your immune system. Eat at least five servings daily, preferably a lot more. Fresh juicing of organic vegetables is a great way to quickly multiply your nutrients and antioxidants.
  • Take a multivitamin with minerals. Cover your bases. A good multivitamin will have base amounts of antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals. Look for one with at least 400 IU of vitamin E, 200 micrograms of selenium, at least 250 milligrams of vitamin C, and at least 15 milligrams of zinc.
  • Take an antioxidant supplement. In addition to a good multivitamin with minerals, it would be wise to take additional antioxidants. These can be found in a combination supplement and may include mixed carotenoids, selenium, vitamin E, vitamin C, N-acetyl cysteine, lipoic acid, and more.
  • Try lipoic acid. Lipoic acid, also called thiotic acid, is a strong antioxidant and has been shown to be liver protective in mushroom and chemical poisoning. In studies with chemically induced hepatitis, lipoic acid has been shown to be effective in treatment. Take 200 to 300 milligrams twice daily.
  • Try S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe).SAMe was given to 220 patients with liver disease. Sixty-eight percent had cirrhosis, 6 percent had biliary cirrhosis, and 26 percent had hepatitis. A reduction of symptoms of itching and fatigue were noted along with an improved sense of well-being. Laboratory testing of conjugated bilirubin and alkaline phosphatase showed significant improvement. Patients were given 1,600 milligrams daily.
  • Try sho-saiko-to. Sho-saiko-to, also called TJ-9, is a Chinese remedy that contains bupleurum and six other herbs. It is being extensively used in Japan for people with hepatitis and cirrhosis and to prevent the development of liver cancer. Take 2.5 grams three times daily. It should not be used in combination with interferon therapy.
  • Try milk thistle or Silybum marianum (silymarin). Milk thistle has long been used for all liver disease. It appears to retard progression of cirrhosis primarily through its antioxidant effects. Animal research has been consistent in its results; human research has been less so.

Still, there is little or no risk and the possibility of great benefit. Take 420 milligrams daily. Look for a product that has been standardized for silymarin content. A company that has done that will clearly label it on the bottle.

  • Take zinc. People with cirrhosis often have a zinc deficiency. Take 50 to 75 milligrams daily.
  • Drink Rooibos tea (Aspalathus linearis). Rooibos tea is also called red tea and is a relatively new food product. It offers a delicious caffeine-free alternative for tea drinkers. Research was done in rats, but I was delighted to see that, at least in this initial report, it showed a regression of liver damage and cirrhosis and a lowering of liver enzymes (ALT and AST).

The researchers consider it to be a useful plant for patients with liver disease. It contains small amounts of vitamin C, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride, and potassium. Other studies show it to have antioxidant effects. For dosage, I recommend that you drink as much as you like.