Contributor: WILSON F. JACKSON, MD, FACP, FACG, AGAF
Autoimmune hepatitis is a chronic disease that occurs when your immune system attacks your normal cells and components of your liver, causing damage and inflammation. In the U.S., around 70 percent of autoimmune hepatitis sufferers are female in the age group of between 15 to 40 years of age, according to the American Liver Foundation.
Left untreated, the liver can become scarred and cirrhosis develops. There is, however, effective treatment that can reverse the inflammation and prevent long-term damage. Medications that target the immune system are the mainstay of therapy and taken as advised, effectively treat autoimmune hepatitis. That’s not the only thing that someone with autoimmune hepatitis can do though.
In addition to conventional medical treatment, prebiotics, offered from Prebiotin, can help maintain liver health. Through this guide, you’ll learn more about autoimmune hepatitis, including its symptoms, triggers, types, treatment methods, and the positive role prebiotics can play in treating the disease.
Difference Between Hepatitis and Autoimmune Hepatitis?
Before learning more about autoimmune hepatitis and the role prebiotics can play in helping to treat the disease, it is helpful to understand some basics about hepatitis and how it differs from autoimmune hepatitis.
There are five main hepatic viruses, known as A, B, C, D and E. The difference between these types of the disease and autoimmune hepatitis is that these other variants are caused by contact with contaminants, rather than being diseases of the immune system.
These five variants of hepatitis are transmitted in the following ways.
- Hepatitis A is mostly transmitted through contaminated food or water, and it is present within the feces of those infected.
- Hepatitis B is transmitted through contact with infected bodily fluids, such as blood or semen.
- Hepatitis C is mostly contracted through exposure to infected blood through transfusions and injecting drugs.
- Hepatitis D can only occur if you’re infected with hepatitis B. Being infected with both these infections can make you very ill.
- Hepatitis E is mostly transmitted through consuming contaminated food or water.
In contrast to these types of hepatitis, autoimmune hepatitis is not “caught.” Rather, it is a disease of the immune system.
What Causes Autoimmune Hepatitis?
If you’re facing an autoimmune hepatitis diagnosis, you may be feeling very worried since it can be a chronic, long-lasting disease. The disease occurs when your immune system attacks your liver, and currently, the definitive reasons why your system may react like this are unclear.
However, it is widely thought that autoimmune hepatitis may be the result of certain environmental triggers (ones which originate outside your body,) that can lead to autoimmunity. These include some medications, toxins, viruses and bacteria, as well as the way the genes controlling your immune system interact.
There are generally thought to be three main components that have to be present for you to develop an autoimmune disease, such as autoimmune hepatitis:
- Environmental triggers. These are proteins, or antigens, that your immune system recognizes as a threat. For example, celiac disease sufferers are triggered by gluten.
- Genetic predisposition. Certain genes some individuals carry may increase their likelihood of developing certain diseases.
- Failure of immune tolerance. This is a fancy way to say that our body’s immune system becomes confused and begins to attack itself. Failure of immune tolerance is common to many autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis and lupus. In the case of autoimmune hepatitis, the body’s immune system attacks the liver cells.
One area of active research is the extent to which our intestinal track and the bacteria that reside there impact liver health. The liver is the first organ to process anything absorbed from the intestine so it would seem logical that nutrition and gut bugs play some role. We do not yet know the full interplay but a healthy intestinal microbiome would seem a logical place for someone with autoimmune hepatitis and other autoimmune diseases to help manage their disease.
Types of Autoimmune Hepatitis
There are two main types of autoimmune hepatitis: Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 is the most common form in the U.S. This type can occur at any age. However, it mostly begins when you’re an adolescent or a young adult.
It is known that someone with one autoimmune disease can develop another. These include;
- Crohn’s This condition causes irritation and inflammation in the digestive tract.
- Celiac disease. This is an autoimmune condition that means sufferers cannot tolerate gluten. It damages their small intestine, thus preventing nutrient absorption.
- Graves’ disease. This disease results in the overproduction of thyroid hormones.
- Hashimoto’s disease. This disease is a chronic inflammation of the thyroid.
- Rheumatoid arthritis. Rheumatoid arthritis is a very painful inflammatory disease that affects the joints and can eventually cause disabling changes for instance in the hands.
- Type 1 diabetes. This is a condition in which the body cannot produce insulin.
- Ulcerative colitis. Ulcerative colitis is a condition that causes sores and inflammation in the inner lining of the large intestine.
Type 2 autoimmune hepatitis is more rare, and it shows up more often in children. It can also be accompanied by any of the above autoimmune-related conditions.
Symptoms of Autoimmune Hepatitis
Symptoms of autoimmune hepatitis range from mild to severe. You could feel that you have a mild flu-like illness, or you may feel nothing at all in the early stages. However, in general, if you’re suffering from autoimmune hepatitis, it’s likely that you’re experiencing at least some of these common and sometimes debilitating symptoms:
- Joint pain
- Discomfort or pain over the liver
- Loss of appetite
- Dark urine
- Light-colored stools
- Skin rashes
- Jaundice of the whites of the eyes and skin
Diagnosis of Autoimmune Hepatitis
Your autoimmune hepatitis diagnosis is made based on your symptoms, a physical exam and laboratory work. Oftentimes a liver biopsy is also obtained. Blood tests are very important in the diagnosis of this disease, as many other metabolic disorders can produce the same symptoms as liver diseases.
Finally having a name to put to your symptoms can be a relief, and it can also help you get treatment quickly. This is why early diagnosis is so important.
Treatment of Autoimmune Hepatitis
Autoimmune hepatitis treatment usually includes taking medications. Because autoimmune hepatitis is a disorder of the immune system, medications that target the immune system are used. Steroids are often used as a first line approach to settle the immediate inflammation but are not used long term. Once the inflammation is brought under control, other longer term medications are used.
The good news for those with autoimmune hepatitis is the effectiveness of the medications used. Only in rare circumstances, or if the disease is caught too late, does the person develop complete liver failure. In these circumstances, a liver transplant can be life-saving.
There is also a lot you can do to ensure you remain as healthy as possible throughout your autoimmune hepatitis treatment. This includes exercising, eating well, resting when you need to and ensuring you take prebiotic supplements to maintain the health of your gut.
How Your Gut Microbiome Affects Autoimmune Disease
There is increasing research into the human microbiome and autoimmunity that suggests very clearly that supporting the health of your gut microbiome may help treat and prevent autoimmune disease.
There are trillions of microbial organisms that reside inside the small and large intestine of a healthy person. Many of these microbes depend on you for their survival, just as you need them to keep your system healthy. Therefore, the gut bacteria and autoimmune disease connection is a very real issue.
When you eat, you provide the nutrients for the good bacteria that help support your immune system. Not only that, but the good bacteria even make important compounds and vitamins and more effectively digest carbohydrates.
This amazing symbiotic relationship is going on inside you right now, and it shows why is it’s important to nurture and to take care of the microorganisms in your gut which help your body to function correctly.
Gut Dysbiosis: The Importance of Keeping Your Gut in Balance
Your microbiome is made up of the entire bacterial population that lives in your mouth, on your skin and in your gut. If the microbial population isn’t in balance, and the good bacteria are outnumbered by the more harmful ones, you have a situation called gut dysbiosis.
According to the journal Microbial Ecology in Health and Disease, there is evidence emerging that this dysbiosis within the gut is associated with many intestinal and non-intestinal disorders. Therefore, it is very important that you maintain a healthy gut for the overall good of your body.
Your microbiome affects the rest of your body in so many different ways — from how you store fat to how you feel mood-wise. When your usual gut microbiome is disturbed and out-of-balance, it can make you ill, since a large part of your immune system is found within your gut.
Emerging research points to the important balance between the rich intestinal immune system and our intestinal bacteria. To a large extent, our diet drives the composition of the microbiome. As such, dysbiosis of the microbiome, determined by what we eat, has an impact on how our intestinal immune system reacts and adapts.
A paper from the journal Gut, took a look at the growing research about the health of our microbiome and concluded that when the gut is unhealthy, it could be the key factor in developing autoimmune disease.
An important component of preventing autoimmune disease is to keep your gut bacteria in balance. There needs to be both good and bad bacteria in there to keep your gut healthy. However, without proper care, the bad bacteria can thrive. You need to keep these not-so-good bacteria in check by ensuring there is an existing population of the beneficial kind. The intestinal microbiome and autoimmune disease connection is likely very real.
This can be helped along significantly with the use of prebiotics and probiotics that are found in certain foods and in the form of dietary supplements.
The Importance of Prebiotics for Your Immune System
Your gut bacteria need fed. Their food of choice is prebiotics, so in the fight against autoimmune hepatitis, it is incredibly important that you introduce prebiotics into your daily diet.
Prebiotics are not easily digested and come in the form of seeds, stems, roots and leaves. Some prebiotics include:
- Raw asparagus
- Raw banana
- Raw chicory root
- Raw dandelion greens
- Raw garlic
- Raw Jerusalem artichokes
- Raw leeks
- Raw as well as cooked onions
- Raw wheat bran
When you introduce these into your diet, they will actively feed the good bacteria in your gut, thus ensuring a healthy microbiome.
It is important to remember to consume more probiotic foods too, such as cultured vegetables, yogurt and raw cheeses, to ensure the process works well within your body. Prebiotic and probiotics supplements can be used together to improve the health of your gut, and its ability to enhance your immune system. Today we depend far too often on prepared foods. Convenient, but usually unhealthy and nutrient deficient.
Limiting Processed, Sugary and Refined Foods
Prepackaged and processed foods may be very convenient, but those preservative-rich foods are doing very little to maintain your gut health, and often harming it! To give yourself the best chance of keeping your immune system healthy, limit your intake of sugars as well as refined and processed foods.
Antibiotics in our food chain can also alter our gut bacteria balance. Remember to buy antibiotic-free meat, fish and poultry, as well as dairy products.
Prescribed antibiotics should only be used when essential to combat a bacterial infection. Antibiotics will significantly disrupt the intestinal bacteria. Antibiotics indiscriminately destroy both the bad bacteria and the good ones. Having a prebiotic on-board in advance of any necessary antibiotics may further reduce the effects of antibiotics on our intestinal bacteria and put them in a better position to recover once the antibiotics are finished.
According to the journal Alternative Medicine Review: A Journal of Clinical Therapeutics, intestinal dysbiosis relates to factors that are associated with modern Western living to include our diet. We simply do not eat the way our intestinal immune system developed over the millennia. One theory is that the recent changes in our microbiome have led to the rise in any number of autoimmune diseases, including autoimmune hepatitis.
The researchers go on to state that if these causes are reduced or eliminated, treatments to change the microflora could be even more successful.
The Ease, Convenience and Benefits of Prebiotics
This is why taking prebiotic supplements is a wonderful way to maintain the health of your gut and your immune system.
There are an estimated 1000 different species and trillions of microorganisms inhabiting your gut. To help the good ones out, taking a premier prebiotic supplement on a daily basis will help ensure a healthy intake of prebiotic fiber that may be missing in your diet.
With conditions such as autoimmune hepatitis being linked to issues of intestinal permeability, it’s time to take control of your gut health now, and taking prebiotic supplements is a healthy, easy and convenient way to begin.
Points to Remember About Autoimmune Hepatitis
No matter what, there are some things to remember about Autoimmune Hepatitis:
- Autoimmune hepatitis is a very serious condition which can worsen over time if not treated.
- The disease is long lasting (chronic).
- Autoimmune hepatitis is a condition in which your immune system causes damage and inflammation to your liver by attacking it.
- The disease is more common in women. However, it can occur in anyone of any age, and it’s found in all ethnicities.
- The disease is classified as either type 1 or 2.
- A diagnosis is made based on a physical exam, symptoms, blood tests and often a biopsy of the liver.
- It is important to seek blood tests to confirm an exact diagnosis, because many other metabolic disorders and liver diseases have similar symptoms.
- You may need medication to help slow down your overactive immune system.
- Treatments work best when you receive an early diagnosis.
- In some cases, if the liver damage is severely advanced, a liver transplant may be needed.
- In most cases, the disease is controllable. Prebiotics can play a positive role in managing the disease.
To learn more about the powerful benefits of prebiotics from Prebiotin, visit our Science of Prebiotics web page to view published research. You are the only person in charge of your health. Take charge of a healthy diet and include Prebiotin!