Cirrhosis is the scarring of the liver that happens because of chronic liver disease. Scar tissue blocks blood and bile flow through the liver and keeps it from working as it should.
The liver is the body’s largest internal organ. It is an essential organ and the body cannot survive without it. The liver has many important functions including
- Preventing infections
- Removing bacteria and toxins from the blood
- Digesting food and processing medications and hormones
- Making proteins that help the blood clot
- Storing vitamins, minerals, fats, and sugars for use by the body
When something attacks and damages the liver, liver cells are killed and scar tissue is formed. This scarring process is called fibrosis and it happens slowly over many years. When the whole liver is scarred, it shrinks and hardens. This is called cirrhosis, and usually this damage cannot be undone. Any illness that affects the liver over a long period of time may lead to fibrosis and, eventually, cirrhosis.
Heavy drinking and viruses (like hepatitis C or B) are common causes of cirrhosis. However, there are other causes as well. Cirrhosis may be caused by a buildup of fat in the liver of people who are overweight or have diabetes. Some people inherit genes that cause liver disease. Other causes include certain prescribed and over-the-counter medicines, environmental poisons, and autoimmune hepatitis, a condition in which a person’s own immune system attacks the liver as if it were a foreign body.
Cirrhosis causes the liver to become lumpy and stiff. This prevents blood from flowing through the liver easily and causes the build-up of pressure in the portal vein, the vein that brings blood to the liver. High pressure in the portal vein is called portal hypertension. To relieve this pressure, the blood goes around the portal vein, through other veins. Some of these veins, called varices, can be found in the pipe that carries food from your mouth to your stomach (the esophagus) or in your stomach itself.
Portal hypertension also causes blood to back up into another organ called the spleen. This causes the spleen to get bigger and destroy more platelets than usual.
Platelets are blood cells that help in blood clotting. With cirrhosis, blood is blocked from entering the liver and toxic substances that the liver normally filters escapes into general blood circulation.
Aside from the problems with liver blood flow, when cirrhosis is advanced, there aren’t enough healthy liver cells to make good substances, such as albumin (a protein) and clotting factors that the liver normally makes. Another complication is Liver cancer, called hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC). This cancer can occur if some of the sick liver cells start to multiply out of control. Liver cancer, may occur in any stage of cirrhosis. There may be no signs of liver cancer until the cancer has grown very large and causes pain.
The early stage of cirrhosis is called compensated cirrhosis. At this stage you may have no symptoms at all. In fact, a person may live many years with cirrhosis without being aware that her liver is scarred. This is because the pressure in the portal vein is not yet too high and there are still enough healthy liver cells to keep up with the body’s needs. But if nothing is done about the cause of cirrhosis (for example, if the person continues to drink alcohol, or if hepatitis or other causes of cirrhosis are not treated), the pressure in the portal vein gets higher and the few remaining healthy liver cells are not able to do all the work for the entire liver.
At that point, you may notice symptoms like low energy, poor appetite, weight loss, or loss of muscle mass. As the disease progresses symptoms become more severe and may be life threatening. Advanced cirrhosis is called decompensated cirrhosis. At this stage you can also develop the following serious problems:
- bleeding varices – internal bleeding from large blood vessels in the esophagus
- ascites (pronounced “a-sigh-tees”) – a buildup of fluid in the belly,
- encephalopathy – confusion from the buildup of toxins in the blood
- Jaundice – yellowing of the eyes and skin,
Sometimes, if the damaging agent (such as alcohol) is removed, the liver can slowly heal. Other times, the only way to cure cirrhosis is to replace the sick liver with a healthy liver – this is called liver transplantation.
Treatment options for common liver diseases such as cirrhosis, fatty liver, and chronic hepatitis are problematic. The effectiveness of treatments such as interferon, colchicine, penicillamine, and corticosteroids are inconsistent at best and the incidence of side-effects profound. All too often the treatment is worse than the disease. Physicians and patients are in need of effective therapeutic agents with a low incidence of side-effects. Mushroom and seaweed extracts potentially constitute such a group.
Nutritional Alternatives: Fucoidan and mushroom extracts like AHCC and Agaricus blazei Murill can support the function of the liver
It is vitally important that patients with liver cirrhosis maintain a balanced diet, one which ensures adequate calories, carbohydrates, fats and proteins. Such a diet will aid the liver in the regeneration of liver cells. Nutrition that supports this regeneration is a means of treatment of some liver disorders. Beyond the maintenance of a good, well-balanced diet, several conditions that develop in the later stages of cirrhosis require specific dietary management. Two well-researched alternatives mushroom and seaweed extracts like Fucoidan, AHCC (Active Hexose Correlated Compound) and Agaricus blazei.
New research done in Japan with fucoidan derived from Cladosiphon okamuranus(Mozuku) showed that liver fibrosis is closely associated with the progression of various liver conditions, for example, liver cirrhosis. Fucoidan has different properties such as anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-fibrotic activities. In this study, the findings suggest that fucoidan causes anti-fibrogenesis in liver induced cirrhosis through the downregulation of transforming factor beta 1 and chemokine ligand 12 expressions, and that scavenging lipid peroxidation is well-incorporated in the liver. These results were published in the Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology (Attenuation of N-nitrosodiethylamine-induced liver fibrosis by fucoidan derived from Cladisophon okamuranus, 2010: 25(10):1692-701).
Active hexose correlated compound (AHCC) is an extract of mushrooms from the Basidiomycete class, including shiitake mushrooms. This product contains polysaccharides called glucans, which scientists think are responsible for its biological activity. One study showed that it could enhance the activity of natural killer cells (a type of immune cell) in the test tube. Animal studies suggest that AHCC has antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and can improve the response of the immune system in mice with chemotherapy-weakened immune systems. In humans, AHCC has been shown to improve liver function in patients with hepatocellular carcinoma and cirrhosis and reduce the levels of certain tumor markers in the blood.
Another research published in the Cancer Chemotherapy Pharmacology Journal, AHCC was used as a therapy for liver cirrhosis patients with advanced hepatocellular carcinoma. The results showed that in liver cirrhosis patients, therapy with AHCC has shown to improve the liver function. Moreover, people who suffer from Hepatitis B & C can improve their health dramatically with AHCC supplementation. Long–term research has demonstrated that AHCC effectively reduces viral load and activity, which can significantly lessen liver damage in hepatitis patients.
Agaricus blazei Murrill, an edible mushroom native to Brazil, is widely used for nonprescript and medicinal purposes. In the trial, rats were divided into a control group; a group given alcohol (ethanol); and a group fed Agaricus blazei Murrill extracts and ethanol. They were given the substances for 4 weeks, after which their livers were analyzed.
The control group given no alcohol had no liver damage. The groups given alcohol showed liver damage, but the group given alcohol and Agaricus blazei Murrill had much less liver damage. The medicinal mushroom also seemed to repair some of the liver damage. The researchers concluded that the Agaricus blazei Murrill extracts had a significant protective effect on alcohol-induced liver injury. They recommend further studies and trials of this useful medicinal mushroom.
Cirrhosis can be serious and life threatening, especially if you continue to drink alcohol. The outcome of cirrhosis depends on the stage. The good news is that with proper diet, nutritional ingredients (Fucoidan, AHCC and Agariucs), medical management, and avoidance of alcohol, you can drastically slow down the rate of progression of liver damage.