Cirrhosis

Cirrhosis is a progressive liver disease in which the normal liver tissue is replaced with nodules (small, knob-shaped structures) that are surrounded by fibrous, scar tissue.

The liver performs an enormous range of very important functions in the body. It helps to process nutrients into substances that can be used by the body; it makes bile (the substance that helps digest and absorb dietary fats); it helps to regulate the amount of sugar, protein and fat that, enter into the bloodstream and it breaks down drugs, toxic substances and other chemicals so they can be excreted by the body.

Cirrhosis is a progressive disease, which means that it gradually destroys more and more of the liver so there are fewer normal areas to carry out these essential functions. Many people with Cirrhosis will not display any illness during the early stages of the disease, while others may experience weakness, loss of appetite, a general feeling of being unwell and weight loss. If there is any obstruction to the flow of bile from the liver, then jaundice, darkening of the urine, itchiness of the skin and yellowy discolouration of the whites of the eyes can occur. There may be malnutrition as a result of an inadequate diet, poor digestion of fats and poor absorption of fat-soluble vitamins. As the disease progresses, small, red, spiderlike blood vessels can appear under the skin and bruising occurs very easily. Fluid build-up in the abdomen (ascites) and swelling of the abdomen and legs may occur.

CAUSE
The causes of Cirrhosis include chronic alcohol abuse, prolonged exposure to toxic chemicals or diseases such as hepatitis.

TREATMENT OPTIONS
Always consult your Doctor for the diagnosis and management of Cirrhosis. The diagnosis of Cirrhosis involves blood tests that measure liver function, ultrasound test, CT scan and other tests that assess the severity of the condition. Cirrhosis is an irreversible condition, but it is managed using nutritional therapy and the treatment of any complications that occur. For example, fluid retention may be managed by restricting salt intake and by diuretic medications and itching can be controlled by a medication that removes bile acids from the body, which is the cause of this symptom. If the condition is severe, your Doctor may recommend a liver transplant.

DIET HINTS
• People with Cirrhosis require nutritional support. A Doctor or Dietician should be consulted for advice about meeting the special nutritional requirements of a person with Cirrhosis.
• It is important to avoid alcohol or any other drugs that have to be broken down by the liver, as these can worsen Cirrhosis by putting additional stress on the liver.
• Cirrhosis increases the body's protein requirements, so it is recommended that patients ensure they have an increased or at least normal daily intake of protein.
• Some people with Cirrhosis find it easier to fulfil their nutritional requirements by eating several meals during the day as well as a late-evening snack.
• Amino acids supplements may be required in extremely malnourished people so that their daily protein requirements can be met.
• In some people with Cirrhosis, their livers cannot cope with additional protein and for these people, branched chain amino acids can help to supply certain essential nutrients.

VITAMINS/MINERALS/HERBS
Always consult your Doctor before taking any vitamins, minerals or herbs for advice on any possible side effects or drug interactions.
• Milk Thistle may be beneficial in the management of acute and chronic liver disease. This herb may offer protection against toxins, which can damage the liver and promote the formation of new, healthier liver cells to replace old, damaged ones.
• Alpha-Lipoic Acid is an antioxidant, which may be useful in the treatment of liver disease. It may shield the liver from potentially harmful cell changes and assist in flushing toxins from the body.
• Dandelion may be beneficial to treat liver problems, as it is restorative to the liver.
• Zinc may be beneficial in the treatment of cirrhosis. Low levels of zinc are associated with an increased risk of cirrhosis and with a reduced capacity for breaking down alcohol.
• Schisandra is a herb that may offer some protection against progression of Cirrhosis to liver cancer.


PHARMACIST'S ADVICE
Ask your MedAux Pharmacist for advice.
1. Follow the Diet Hints.
2. Do not smoke. If you have difficulty stopping, ask your MedAux Pharmacist. Smoking narrows the arteries and nicotine is broken down by the liver.
3. Do not drink alcohol or any caffeine drinks. Caffeine increases nervous tension and can reduce the appetite. Caffeine puts an extra load on the liver as it is metabolised (broken down) in the liver.
4. If the diet is inadequate consider some supplements. Vitamin C and zinc are two supplements suggested to help the immune system of the body.
5. Alcohol greatly reduces the absorption of B group vitamins and other nutrients. It may be important to include this vitamin as a supplement.