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Diet in viral hepatitis: Myths vs facts

Acute viral hepatitis (AVH) is very common in India, most cases caused by Hepatitis A and hepatitis E viruses. The primary manifestation of AVH is jaundice. The mainstay of treatment for AVH is supportive care, as most cases are self-limited. 

Adequate nutritional support helps in the recovery of damaged liver cells.

Common myths/ perceptions of diet in AVH:

  • There is a traditional belief that patients with jaundice need to be on a low calorie and low fat diet as the digestion is weakened during the period of jaundice. 
  • Food items like ghee, oil, roti/ chapatti etc are cut down. 
  • Also, these patients take in sugarcane juice/ glucose powder as these are believed to be helpful in the recovery from jaundice.
  • Apart from these traditional beliefs, patients also are undernourished during jaundice due to nausea, vomiting and anorexia. 

Facts about diet in AVH:

  • There are no specific dietary restrictions recommended in AVH.
  • Fever and infection will increase the nutrient requirements and hence a well-balanced diet is required during the illness.
  • Low fat diets are associated with extended and complicated illness.
  • Recommended diet
    • Frequent meals 
    • High calorie liquids and semi-solids in-between regular meals of solid food
    • High protein (1–1.2 g/kg actual body weight)
    • High carbohydrate (55% of total calories)
    • Moderate fat (25–30% of the total calories)

Study from Hyderabad (Asian Institute of Gastroenterology, 2009)

  • Patients taking a low calorie diet had a longer hospital stay as compared to those taking high/ adequate calories.
  • A majority of patients could be convinced of shifting to a balanced diet by counselling.

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