Poor nutrition is rarely a cause of liver disease, but good nutrition in the form of a balanced diet, may help liver cells damaged by hepatitis viruses to regenerate, forming new liver cells. Nutrition is an essential part of treatment. Many chronic liver diseases are associated with malnutrition.
- Watch the Protein. Too much daily protein in individuals with cirrhosis may cause hepatic encephalopathy (mental confusion). This occurs when the amount of dietary protein is greater than the liver’s ability to process the protein. This causes a build up of toxins that can interfere with brain function. Protein may be restricted in patients with clinical evidence of encephalopathy. However, controversy exists regarding the type of protein a diet should contain. Vegetable and dairy protein may be tolerated better than meat protein. Medications, such as lactulose and neomycin, may be used to help control hepatitis-related encephalopathy. Due to the body’s need for proteins, protein restriction should only be undertaken with a doctor’s advice.
- Watch the Calories and the Fats. Excess calories in the form of carbohydrates can add to liver dysfunction and can cause fat deposits in the liver. No more than 30% of a person’s total calories should come from fat to protect the cardiovascular system. To figure out your daily calorie needs, you’ll need a minimum of 15 calories a day for each pound of your weight. Good nutrition also helps to maintain the normal fluid and electrolyte balances in the body. Patients with fluid retention and swelling of the abdomen (ascites), or the legs (peripheral edema), may need diets low in salt to avoid sodium retention that contributes to fluid retention. Avoiding foods such as canned soups and vegetables, cold cuts, dairy products, and condiments such as mayonnaise and ketchup can reduce sodium intake. Read food labels carefully as many prepared foods contain large amounts of salt. The best-tasting salt substitute is lemon juice.
- Watch Vitamins A and D. Excessive amounts of some vitamins may be an additional source of stress to the liver that must act as a filter for the body. Mega-vitamin supplements, particularly if they contain vitamins A and D, may be harmful. Excess vitamin A is very toxic to the liver.