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You Have Hepatitis B, Will Liver-Detox Diets or Supplements Help? Experts Weigh In

Courtesy of Pixabay.
Courtesy of Pixabay.

By Christine Kukka

Manufacturers and health “gurus” around the world market liver detox diets and supplements that promise to remove toxins, reduce inflammation, strengthen the immune system and help you lose weight. But do they help people with chronic hepatitis B?

A team of Australian researchers examined these claims and concluded, “At present, there is no compelling evidence to support the use of detox diets for weight management or toxin elimination.

“Considering the financial costs to consumers, unsubstantiated claims and potential health risks of detox products, they should be discouraged by health professionals and subject to independent regulatory review and monitoring,” the authors wrote in their report published in the Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics.

Let’s look at some of the diets and products the researchers evaluated.

  • The Cleanser/Lemon Detox Diet that requires 10 days of drinking only lemon juice, water, cayenne pepper and tree syrup, along with sea salt water and a mild laxative herbal tea.

    Courtesy of Pixabay.
    Courtesy of Pixabay.
  • The Liver Cleansing Diet featuring vegetarian, high-fiber, low-fat, dairy-free, minimally processed food for eight weeks, along with “liver tonics and Epsom salts.”
  • Martha’s Vineyard Detox Diet: A 21-day regimen features vegetable juice and soup, herbal tea and special powders, tablets, cocktails and digestive enzymes.
  • Dr Oz’s 48-hour Weekend Cleanse: A two-day program featuring quinoa, vegetables, fruit juices and smoothies, vegetable broth and dandelion root tea, and;
  • The Hubbard purification rundown: This requires increasing doses of niacin with a range of A, D, C, E and B vitamins, a variety of minerals and a blend of polyunsaturated oils and mandates that adherents spend five hours in a hot sauna daily.

According to researchers, none of these plans have been evaluated scientifically, which includes using a control group that receives a placebo instead of the treatment. The L. Ron Hubbard plan, promoted by the Church of Scientology, received some scientific evaluation after the purification protocol was applied to 14 rescue workers who were exposed to high levels of chemicals after the 9/11 collapse of the World Trade Center.

The program used niacin supplements, sweating in a sauna and physical exercise to get rid of toxins stored in body fat — which is where nearly all toxins end up – not in liver cells.

“The firemen’s scores on several memory tests reportedly improved after the intervention but the sample size was small and no control group was included,” researchers noted. The Church of Scientology used a similar program and employed a small control group, but the length of the treatment varied widely (ranging from 11 to 89 days). “Rather dubiously, the average increase in IQ in the experimental group was reported to be 6.7 points, despite the average intervention length being only 31 days,” researchers noted.

As with herbal supplements sold around the world, there is also no regulation of the detox diet industry.

“At present, the European Union has refused to authorize the detoxification claims of a dozen nutritional substances (including green coffee, grapefruit and taurine), although there are hundreds of other ‘detox’ products that do not yet appear on the Health and Nutrition Claims Register,” researchers wrote.

More alarming, it appears these companies are now using new marketing terms, such as “reinvention” and “revamp,” instead of detox and cleansing, which makes it difficult for government agencies to regulate these products.

“In some cases, the components of detox products may not match their labels, which is a potentially dangerous situation,” researchers noted. “In Spain, a 50-year-old man died from manganese poisoning after consuming Epsom salts as part of a liver cleansing diet.”

So why are these diets and supplements so popular?

“The seductive power of detox diets presumably lies in their promise of purification and redemption, which are ideals that are deep-rooted in human psychology,” researchers observed. “These diets … are highly reminiscent of the religious fasts that have been popular throughout human history. Unfortunately, equating food with sin, guilt and contamination is likely to set up an unhealthy relationship with nutrition. There is no doubt that sustained healthy habits are of greater long-term value than the quick fixes offered by commercial detox diets.”

Got HBV? Adding Vitamin D to Your Diet

Do you have hepatitis B, and are you considering adding vitamin D to your diet?  Adding vitamin D seems to be a win-win for those with liver disease since it is a potent immune modulator, appears to aid in the prevention of cancer, and other potentially related disorders such as NAFLD, along with Type I and II Diabetes, glucose intolerance and metabolic syndrome.  Before you make any big additions, be sure to talk to your doctor or liver specialist to ensure it’s safe for you with your current health status.

Vitamin D is a fat soluble vitamin (needs a little fat to digest), versus a water soluble vitamin, that is ultimately stored in the liver.  There are pros and cons to this.  Fat soluble vitamins are not necessarily needed on a daily basis as they are stored in fatty tissues and in the liver making it available for longer periods of time.  Vitamin D is specifically stored in the liver. Unlike water soluble vitamins, excesses are not excreted through urine on a daily basis. That makes the balance a little trickier because you don’t want vitamin D accumulating in the liver and causing toxicity. Symptoms of vitamin D deficiency include osteomalacia, or softening of the bones, or perhaps less obvious bone pain and muscle weakness. Symptoms of vitamin D toxicity may include decreased appetite, nausea,vomiting, excess calcium blood levels or an accumulation of calcium in soft tissues. Too much of a good thing is NOT good for you!

Current guidelines for vitamin D intake are 600 IU or 15 mcg per day. (See table for age specific info). Natural sources of vitamin D in foods (vitamin D2, or ergocalciferol) are hard to come by, but they are out there.  Mega sources include fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, and tuna.  Cod liver oil is an excellent source, which is probably why we see old movies with mom spooning cod liver oil into the mouths of young children! In the U.S. many dairy products, and others such as cereals, or orange juice are fortified with vitamin D and other vitamins. (There’s a great reason for the fortification of dairy with vitamin D – absorption is enhanced in the presence of calcium.) It is also found in smaller amounts in egg yolks. Naturally all of this needs to be balanced with the concerns of farm raised fish and possible exposure to PCBs, or mercury levels found in tuna, pollution of our oceans, raising your cholesterol levels due to focusing on the yolks, possible toxic levels of vitamin A with cod liver oil  (in Western countries where foods are fortified with vitamin A), or simply the bad, fishy taste associated with cod-liver oil. It’s a tough balance, but it’s important to work through some of the risks versus benefits in your own mind.

Sunshine is another readily available source of vitamin D (vitamin D3, cholecalciferol), but you need to be sure to balance it with the risk of over-exposure to the sun’s rays. And of course in the north, during the winter months, it may be difficult to get adequate sunshine to boost your vitamin D levels. You can get adequate sun exposure with 10-15 minutes in the sun, 3-5 times per week, with the exposure of face and arms. Naturally this will vary based on the sun’s intensity, how much skin is exposed and each individual’s skin tone, since the amount of necessary sun increases with the amount of melanin (pigment) in the skin.  Just to confuse matters, a recent study shows a possible link of higher levels of vitamin D to non-melanoma skin cancer, even though higher levels are thought to reduce the risk of basal cell cancer. Clearly more studies need to be done, but until that time, just keep reminding yourself that balance is important.

Sometimes it’s tough to get adequate vitamin D levels from natural sources such as food and sunshine, so there is the option for vitamin D supplements. This is where my anxiety levels intensify. Bad enough I have to worry about my food sources – PCBs from farm raised fish and such things, but now I have to choose a supplement – perhaps cod liver oil in a liquid or capsule that I can take daily.  Will it be in a form that is able to be absorbed?  (There’s a debate on the true benefit of cod liver oil once it is processed.  The same argument might apply to many available supplements.) How will I know this?  Will I break the bank trying to purchase these supplements?  I started to do the research on vitamin D supplementation, but like so many supplements, it’s very complex.  I always feel like I’m being sold. Using supplements is a personal thing. My personal preference would be to get my vitamin D through the foods I eat, and a short duration of sunshine.  However, I currently have adequate levels of vitamin D, so whatever I’m doing seems to be adequate.  That’s the key: tailoring your decisions based on you, your family history, or ethnicity and things you might be prone to such as a vitamin D deficiency, or other issues.

Please don’t forget to talk to your PCP and your liver specialist before drastically changing your vitamin D intake.  This is especially important if you are currently undergoing treatment for HBV.  Your doctor may wish to get a general baseline of your vitamin D levels, and continue to monitor them if there are problems.  Your doctor may be uncomfortable recommending a specific supplement since there is little or no regulation. Heed her advice before moving forward, and if you choose the supplementation route, be sure to do your homework to get the best quality product that is readily absorbable, without causing toxicity.

Be sure to take a look at last week’s blog on Vitamin D here.

Fun, Fireworks, and Alcohol Consumption Over the 4th of July Holiday

Are you gearing up for the 4th of July, holiday?  Planning on a couple of days of fun, sun, fireworks, and holiday picnics and parties?  If you’re living with hepatitis B, you will want to be sure to abstain, or at a minimum, keep your alcohol consumption extremely restricted.  Some of the statistics out there linking alcohol consumption to liver disease are sobering (no pun intended), even for those that do not suffer from liver disease due to viral hepatitis.  If you have HBV, drinking just doesn’t mix with love N’ your liver.

So just how much alcohol is too much?  Like everything else, alcohol tolerances vary with the individual, so the amount will vary.  Some people, with or without HBV, may be more prone to liver disease due to contributing factors such as fatty liver disease, hemochromatosis, autoimmune hepatitis,  or hepatoxicity – exposure to certain drugs or environmental and chemical toxins causing liver scarring .   Remember that the liver is basically a very quiet, essential, non-complaining organ.

If you have HBV, you know your tolerance for alcohol is going to be nil.  Drinking will contribute to liver disease.

For healthy women who do not have hep B, 20 grams of alcohol, per day and for men without HBV,  60 grams of alcohol per day is risky business and may very well contribute to liver disease.  This equates to 60 ml. of sixty-proof liquor, or 200 ml. of wine (12% alcohol), and 500 ml of beer (5% alcohol).  A visual always works best for me:

Ouch… Even if you do not have HBV, you are risking your liver health when you drink casually, on a daily basis.  For women, this basically equates to one mixed drink, glass of wine or beer per day, while the limit for men may be three alcoholic drinks per day.

If you’ve got HBV, perhaps it’s time to eliminate alcohol from the party scene and replace it with a thirst-quenching, non-alcoholic beverage.  If not, you might consider one drink for the holiday weekend, and abstain for very l-o-n-g periods of time without alcohol.  Consider one glass of wine, occasionally, the new “binge drinking” level if you wish to best maintain your liver health.  Let’s face it:  abstinence is best if you’re really looking to limit the damage done to your liver.  There are so many toxins that our liver silently removes on a daily basis.  This is one toxin we can choose to control, and eliminate from our environment.

So, light up the sky with fireworks.  Eat your favorite, healthy foods this weekend, and make a commitment, starting this weekend, to remove alcohol from your life, and love your liver.