What you might not know about liver damage

Adventures in Nutritional TherapyLast year I concluded I was on the wrong track re: my remaining stubborn health issues and I started revisiting theories I had abandoned earlier, either out of insufficient information or insufficient confirmation or because it was just too much of a hassle to think about. One of those theories was liver damage. I had suspected liver damage very early on, after the first bout with killer insomnia -– we’re talking 40 minutes of sleep a night for three months. That sprang up when I was given a two-month course of what turns out to be a famously toxic antifungal, Diflucan. However, over the years, dozens of blood and imaging liver function tests came back normal. (I never had a biopsy, because you can’t get one without abnormal liver panels unless you want to pay the $5,000 yourself.)

Here’s a list of liver damage symptoms and what each liver test does. I should note that I have never investigated each liver test the way I did with thyroid and iron tests. With the latter, I discovered there was a big gap between my doctors’ knowledge and the most recent medical knowledge about ideal lab results.

Back then, despite the lack of test evidence, I proceeded with alternative liver treatments anyway, including several rounds of acupuncture, a year of Chinese herbal medicine coordinated by my Doctor of Oriental Medicine and Harvard Med MD, the awesome Needleman, and whatever liver detox steps Ann Louise Gittleman recommended on her website, which escapes me now. I definitely had more energy with the herbals, and I could think more clearly after each acupuncture series, but even so, those health issues maintained their downward trajectory.

This time it finally occurred to me to seek out people who actually had serious liver damage, and I ended up in discussion forums on Hepatitis C, alcoholic cirrhosis, and acetaminophen poisoning. I made a few interesting discoveries. Apologies but I’m too tired at the moment to track down specific citations for all of these, but you can easily find online info on them.

  • Liver damage does not always show up on liver tests (aka liver panels, liver enzyme tests, or liver function tests). See this article. In fact, I was told long ago by Needleman that your liver might be half dead before a blood test would reveal anything. Try convincing your allopathic doctor of that. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
  • Liver damage is common in celiacs.
  • In fact, celiac-induced liver damage can develop in childhood.
  • Said liver damage does not always resolve with the gluten-free diet. (Which doesn’t mean it’s irreversible.)
  • It is not unusual for Hepatitis C patients to not know how they picked it up. It is spread by blood — e.g. a contaminated blood transfusion, contaminated medical equipment (as in these Oklahoma or Florida cases), or IV needles. It makes you wonder if poorly sterilized medical equipment is a bigger problem than commonly thought. Combine that with doctors’ reliance on deceptive liver tests when deciding whether to order the Hepatitis C test, and the fact that it has a 20-year or longer incubation period before it starts to destroy your liver, and it would appear there is a large, hidden pool of Hep C infected out there.
  • The government recently started a public service campaign for baby boomers to get tested for Hepatitis C out of fear that they were exposed by the blood supply before 1992, when routine testing began. However, my doctor, for one, had never heard of the campaign. I had to pay for the $189.00 test myself.
  • OTC treatments most commonly mentioned on discussion forums are methionine, N-acetyl cysteine (NAC), alpha lipoic acid (ALA), and vitamin B6 in the form of P5P. The first three all go toward making glutathione, which the liver uses to detoxify itself. You can also buy glutathione supplements, but some authorities believe it can’t be processed by the body as well as those precursors. Hep C patients are big on experimenting with this stuff because of the awful side effects of the pharmaceuticals used to treat it. One of them is actually suspected of causing multiple sclerosis in Hep C patients.
  • If you’re into herbals, herb company employees can be a good source of info. The owner of Blue Boy Herbs in Mississippi once spent 30 minutes on the phone with me answering question about herbs for the liver and telling me what his other customers had experienced. I personally love ‘em, and milk thistle was definitely helpful, or was until I reacted horribly to it anyway, but they might not be aggressive enough for severe, long-term damage.

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