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Liver Health

The liver is one of the most important and largest organs in your body. It has been described as the body's 'chemical processing plant'. It plays a key role in food metabolism and digestion, in producing immune system proteins and importantly for people with HIV, in the breaking down of prescription and other drugs, and alcohol. The kidneys, along with the liver, also influence the way the body handles different doses of HIV treatments and other drugs.

Having hepatitis damages your liver, which can make processing your HIV treatments more difficult. Having HIV and hepatitis B or C can accelerate the progress of both infections and make both more difficult to treat. Hepatitis B is mainly spread through sex without a condom but can also be spread through sharing injecting equipment. Hepatitis C is mainly spread through sharing injecting equipment, and can be spread through sex. The number of gay men and other men who have sex with men getting Hep C is on the rise, particularly among those men living with HIV. Most of these men have gotten hep C through sex. For more information on sexual transmission of hep C among gay men and other men who have sex with men, you can visit The New Deal.

However, drinking too much or taking liver-damaging drugs can overload the liver's ability to process medicines effectively and deal with the normal toxins collected in everyday life.

There are a number of reasons why people with HIV may be more likely to experience liver damage.

These include:

  • increased use of both prescription and over-the-counter medications, which can cause liver damage (especially paracetamol);
  • increased incidence of hepatitis B and C; and
  • increased levels of alcohol and other drug use.

Liver function should be checked regularly to determine if it is being damaged by lifestyle choices, infections such as hepatitis and some anti-HIV medications. This damage can prevent the liver from doing its job. You can visit AFAO's site on liver disease for more information.

What you can do to live well:

  • Ensure that you have been vaccinated against hepatitis A and B.
  • Get appropriate treatment if you have hepatitis B or hepatitis C.
  • Speak to your doctor about regular testing of liver function.
  • Eat a healthy diet with lots of fruit and vegetables
  • Avoid taking more than 4 grams of paracetamol in any 24 hour period
  • Avoiding high fat food. (deep-fried foods, fatty meats, processed vegetable oils etc.)
  • Avoid excess alcohol. If you have hepatitis or high levels of blood fats, you may have to cut down or stop drinking alcohol.
  • If you have liver disease, avoid high doses of vitamin A and high doses of iron. Some herbal therapies are liver toxic and some interact with HIV treatments in ways that are toxic to the liver—so always inform your doctor about any herbal therapies you are considering.
  • To minimise the risk of hepatitis B and C infection, avoid sex without a condom and use hygienic sexual practices, including washing hands and toys and changing condoms and gloves between partners.
  • To minimise the risk of hepatitis B and C, don't share injecting equipment, including spoons and tourniquets.
  • Advise your health care professionals of all drugs you are taking.