Hep B Blog

Summertime Strategies to Protect Your Liver: Enjoy a Dose of Sunlight and Vitamin D

Grace Wong, associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Grace Wong, associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong

Catching 15 minutes of sunlight three times a week and drinking water instead of sugary drinks are two of the easiest and most natural ways to protect against liver cancer and other types of liver damage when you live with hepatitis B.

Sunlight doesn’t cure hepatitis B, but it spurs production of vitamin D, which appears to help prevent a number of cancers and other liver problems.

The liver appears to play a vital role in metabolizing vitamin D, and when you have healthy vitamin D levels, your body’s cells behave and grow normally. But when you have a vitamin D deficiency, communication between your cells breaks down, which can lead to abnormal cell growth and cancer.

Studies are finding that hepatitis B patients who have vitamin D deficiency often have higher viral loads and rates of liver damage, cirrhosis and cancer, which is troubling because one-third to one-half of people with hepatitis B are deficient in vitamin D.

A recent study, published in the Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, followed 426 hepatitis B patients for more than 13 years. Those with vitamin D deficiency had twice the number of “clinical events,” including liver damage and cancer, than patients with normal vitamin D levels.

Patients with normal vitamin D levels were also twice as likely to seroconvert and lose HBeAg and develop “e” antibodies (called HBeAg seroconversion), which leads to lower levels of hepatitis B virus (viral load) in their bodies.

But don’t reach for those vitamin D supplements just yet. Grace Hong, associate professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at The Chinese University of Hong Kong and lead author of the study, says supplements aren’t needed unless patients have serious vitamin D deficiencies.

“I advise my hepatitis B patients to make life style modification to increase their vitamin D levels,” she said, which includes getting outside to soak in some sunlight and consuming foods rich in vitamin D and juices and milk fortified with vitamin D. “Prescribing vitamin D would only be indicated when there is evidence of vitamin D deficiency and much reduced bone mineral density,” she added.

While most people get the vitamin D they need through sunlight, they also get it from fatty fish, fish liver oil, eggs, and prepared foods fortified with vitamin D, such as breakfast cereal.

The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends sunlight exposure and the following daily recommended dietary allowance of vitamin D:

  • 15 micrograms (μg) per day or 600 international units (IU) for children, teens and adults up to age 70, including women who are pregnant or lactating.
  • And 20 μg per day or 800 IU per day for seniors age 71 and older.

While 90 percent of the body’s vitamin D comes from sunlight, the amount of time in the sun needed to generate vitamin D is actually quite small. In northern areas, such as Boston, with limited sunlight, only 10 to 15 minutes of sun exposure three times a week is needed during winter, and only five to 10 minutes in summer. Longer exposure to the sun does not increase vitamin D production.

In addition to sunlight, remember to avoid sugary drinks on hot summer days. A daily sugary drink increases the risk for fatty liver disease, which can exacerbate a hepatitis B infection. Read more about how sugary drinks harm your liver.

Summer is also a great time to eat healthy foods. Learn more about how much protein you really need in a healthy diet.

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6 thoughts on “Summertime Strategies to Protect Your Liver: Enjoy a Dose of Sunlight and Vitamin D”

  1. EVERY YEAR I HAVE TESTED WHOLE BODY ,THIS YEAR WHEN I GOT THE RESULT HEPATITIS B SURFACE ANTIGEN REACTIVE AND PATIENT VALUE IS 2820.14.THEN I GO FOR HEPATITIS B PROFILE TEST FOLLOWING RESULT IS FOUND HEPATITIS B CORE ANTIBODIES(TOTAL) NONE REACTIVE PATIENT VALUE IS 0.130,HEPATITIS B CORE IGM NONE REACTIVE PATIENT VALUE 0.13,HEPATITIS B SURFACE ANTIBODIES 1.2 AN HEPATITIS B SURFACE ANTIGEN NONE REACTIVE PATIENT VALUE 0.19 AGAIN I GO FOR HEPATITIS B SURFACE ANTIGEN AND RESULT FOUND NONE REACTIVE PATIENT VALUE IS 0.19 FROM DIFFERENT LAB THEN I HAVE CONSULTED DOCTOR GASTROENTEROLOGY AND HEPATOBILIARY SCIENCE THEN HE ALSO SUGGEST GO FOR ONE MORE TIME FOR HEPATITIS B SURFACE ANTIGEN AND RESULT FOUND NONE REACTIVE AND PATIENT VALUE IS 0.01 IU/ML WHAT ITS ALL MEANS PLEASE GIVE ME GUIDE LINE PSYCHOLOGICALLY I AM VERY TENSE

    1. Hello: The lab results are indeed confusing. Sometimes there are errors or a blood sample could be contaminated, which may be why you got the first “reactive” or positive result for the hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg). If the last two lab tests definitely show you are “nonreactive” to HBsAg and also nonreactive for core antibodies, I would say you are not infected, especially if you have tested positive/reactive for hepatitis B surface antibodies. If your doctor has come to the same conclusion, I think you can relax and be happy you are not infected. Good luck.

  2. THANKS FOR YOUR REPLY,YOU KNOW SOME TIME I FEEL ITCHING IN MY BODY,SOME TIME NAUSEA SOME TIME,STRETCH FEEL IN MY LOWER ABDOMEN SOME TIME UPPER ABDOMEN ,SOME TIME FEEL INFLAMMATION SOME TIME POINT PRESSURE PAIN,I HAVE DIAGNOSED BY costochondritis,WHAT ITS ALL MEAN IT IS PSYCHOLOGICAL PRESSURE PLEASE HELP ME

    1. Hello: Some of the symptoms you listed may result from the stress you’ve been feeling about the contradictory hepatitis B results. However it appears you are not infected with hepatitis B, based on the last two lab tests and what your doctor has indicated. I don’t know anything about costochondritis, but that may cause your other symptoms. I encourage you to talk to your doctor about your symptoms. Good luck.

  3. Hbsag +. 5000iu/ml. Hbvdna never higher than 500 in 22yrs when first result found. I was told I had it about20/25 yrs prior to that. Last result alt 23. Afp1.1. Hbvdna blq(below level quantification). Told inactive throughout 22yrs. Owing to all my results over time. Fibroscan 5.3. Ultrasound normal.
    Please advise.

    1. Hello: It appears you have “inactive” hepatitis B, which means the hepatitis B virus are not replicating at a high rate, and your liver is healthy and is not damaged by the infection. That is good news, Good luck.

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