Category Archives: alcohol

Do you know what hepatitis is?

‘Hep’ means liver and ‘itis’ means inflammation of, so hepatitis literally means inflammation of the liver.

Your liver is a large organ – it’s your body’s waste disposal system. It also regulates metabolism, stores iron and vitamins such as folate and B12 and produces proteins and bile, a liquid that’s needed to digest fats. If your liver doesn’t work properly, the result can be serious illness and it can be life-threatening, too.

The causes of hepatitis can be due to chemicals, alcohol, drug use and viruses such as the yellow fever virus and the virus that causes glandular fever.

There are seven forms of hepatitis – some types don’t cause serious health problems but others can result in chronic (long-term problems), scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and even liver cancer.

Here’s our guide to what you need to know about the different types of hepatitis.

What are the symptoms?

Short-term (acute) hepatitis may not have any symptoms at all and if there are symptoms, they might be pretty non-specific i.e. they can be connected with many conditions. For example, nausea, tiredness, abdominal pain, muscle and joint pain, getting bruised easily, a high temperature (fever) of 38 degrees Celsius, dark coloured urine and light bowel movements are signs of hepatitis.

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Long-term (chronic) hepatitis may not have any obvious symptoms, either, until the liver stops working properly and liver failure results. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) is also a sign of late stage liver failure. Hepatitis may only be picked up during blood tests.

If you have any persistent or troublesome symptoms that you think could be caused by hepatitis, go and see your GP immediately.

The seven types of hepatitis are:

  1. Hepatitis A

Caused by the hepatitis A virus, this infection is caught by consuming food or drink contaminated with the bowel movements of an infected person. It is most common in countries with poor sanitation. This type of hepatitis usually passes in a few months. But, it can be severe and even life-threatening.

If you’re travelling overseas, book in before your trip to see your GP, who may recommend a vaccination.

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  1. Hepatitis B

Caused by the hepatitis B virus, infection is spread via the blood of an infected person (e.g. through shared injection needles).

Most adults can fight off the infection in two months or so. But infection in children may be long-term and can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Treatment may involve antiviral medications. If you are in a high-risk group, for example, if you are a health care worker or you inject drugs – your GP may recommend vaccination.

  1. Hepatitis C

Caused by the hepatitis C virus, this is usually spread via blood-to-blood contact with an infected person (e.g. via shared needles or through poor health care practices). Symptoms of infection may be similar to a bout of flu and many people don’t know that they are infected.

Around one in four people can fight off the infection but most people will develop chronic hepatitis C[i], which can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. Treatment is usually antiviral medication but currently there is no vaccination.

  1. Hepatitis D

Caused by the hepatitis D virus, this infection only affects people who already have hepatitis B. It is usually spread through blood-to-blood or sexual contact. It is not common in Australia[ii].

Long-term hepatitis D infection can increase the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis D, your GP might suggest the hepatitis B vaccine to protect you from getting hepatitis D.

  1. Hepatitis E

Common in developing countries, this type of hepatitis is caused by the hepatitis E virus; infection is usually caught via consuming food and drink contaminated with bowel movements from an infected person. Generally mild and short-lived, the infection doesn’t require any treatment. However, for a small number of people, it can be serious (such as those with a suppressed immune system) and it can become chronic.

There’s no vaccine to protect against hepatitis E but you can reduce your risk by being very careful with food and drinks when travelling to parts of the world with poor sanitation. If you are pregnant, you should not travel to areas where there is a lot of hepatitis E, especially during the last three months of pregnancy.

  1. Alcoholic hepatitis

Caused by excessive alcohol consumption over a number of years, many people who have it don’t know that they do because it usually doesn’t have any symptoms. However, it can be detected by a blood test (liver function test). Your liver can usually recover if you stop drinking alcohol. But if you don’t, the result can be liver failure or liver cancer.

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  1. Autoimmune hepatitis

Like other autoimmune conditions, autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the cells of the body start attacking itself. Treatment involves medication to stop the attack.  More research needs to be done to find out why it happens and if anything can be done to prevent autoimmune hepatitis.

For more information, contact:

  • Your GP
  • National Hepatitis information line on 1800 437 222
  • DirectLine (for information about where to get clean needles and syringes for drug users) on 1800 888 236
  • Immunise Australia information line on 1800 671 811.
Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] NHS Choices. Hepatitis. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hepatitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx#hep-C

[ii] Hepatitis Australia. Hepatitis D. http://www.hepatitisaustralia.com/hepatitis-d/

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Don’t do battle at the buffet – fill up without filling out!

According to Nutrition Australia, the average Aussie packs on around 0.8-1.5kg over the Christmas period[i]. The trouble is that most of us don’t lose the extra kilos over the year. The result? We’re getting heavier and heavier. Today, a staggering two thirds of Australians are overweight or obese[ii].

Being too heavy is seriously bad for your health – it increases your risk of chronic (long-term) conditions such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, cancers and even Alzheimer’s disease.

This Christmas season follow these easy tips to pick smarter and healthier options at your gatherings, to help you fill up on flavour – without filling out!

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Before the party

Don’t let yourself get too hungry before an event – it’s easier to succumb to fatty/sugary treats. So have a small sandwich or some veggie sticks and hummus or tomato salsa. Make sure you’re hydrated, too. It’s easy to mistake hunger for thirst.

Circle before you choose and chew

Studies show that when faced with a wide selection of foods, people tend to want to try everything. So make a conscious decision to stop, take a look at what you fancy going around the table a few times before making your choice. Then make sure you chew, chew, chew! According to food psychologist, Dr Brian Wansink, people who chew their foods more tend to be lighter than people who don’t[iii].

Pick up a small one

Psychologically speaking, eating from a smaller plate is more satisfying than loading up a large plate – the plate looks fuller so your mind is tricked into thinking you’ve had loads to eat. Plus, Brian Wansink found that people tend to finish everything on their plate[iv]! Our portion sizes have grown over the last 20 years along with our waistlines – did you know that the plates used by our grandparents were the size of our current salad plates? That’s one great reason to downsize your plate.

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Slow down

Put your knife and fork down between bites. Put your glass down before you have another sip. Why? It helps you to become more focused on what you’re consuming. It also takes around 10 minutes after you are full that the signals reach your brain to tell you that you’ve had enough. Slowing it down helps you get back in tune with your body and puts you back in control.

Veggies first

They are low in kilojoules and rich in nutrition, water and fibre. They also require a lot of chewing which helps to slow things down as you take the edge off your appetite. The fibre in veggies and legumes (peas, beans and pulses) absorbs water (another reason to ensure you’re well hydrated), which forms a jelly like mass that helps you to feel physically fuller.

Sushi’s special

If sushi is on the menu, it’s a great option. The combo of high protein fish and filling fibre in the sticky rice is a healthy choice. Add wasabi to tempt and tantalise your taste buds.

Don’t drown in fat

Creamy, cheesy, dressings, dips and sauces make the kilojoules soar and drown fresh tastes, too. Instead, drizzle a little olive oil and lemon or lime juice on your salads and veggies.

Try smaller treats

If you love certain treats, you don’t have to cut them out completely. If you can, try to opt for small amounts and eat slowly – enjoy every mouthful.

Move away from the buffet

Research shows that being near food – seeing it and easily being able to grab it – makes it more likely that you’ll eat more[v]. So try and sit as far away from the meal mountain as you can.

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Drink from a long one

Again, Dr Wansink’s pioneering work has shown that people tend to feel that they have drunk more if they drink from long glasses compared with short, stubby ones[vi]. Using tall thin glasses instead of large wide ones means that you’ll end up pouring less and drinking less, too.

Don’t drink your kilojoules

Your body was meant to be hydrated with kilojoule free water. This may be one reason why your body finds it so hard to detect the kilojoules in juices, waters and smoothies. Alcohol provides a double whammy – it has a lot of KJs and it also puts the brakes on fat breakdown. So try to dilute your drinks, alternate between alcoholic drinks and water and opt to be the designated driver if you can.

Balance things out

Don’t make the celebrations start early and stay late into January – it’s a sure fire way to start the New Year a little heavier. Balancing your extra intake with extra exercise is vital if you don’t want to start the New Year heavier than you were last year. Just half an hour a day can make a big difference to your health – your body health and your self-confidence and emotional wellness, too.

Click here to download our infographic on what to eat this holiday season.

Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] Nutrition Australia. Tips to beat the Christmas bulge. http://www.nutritionaustralia.org/national/resource/tips-beat-christmas-bulge

[ii] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Overweight and obesity. http://www.aihw.gov.au/overweight-and-obesity/

[iii] Reader’s Digest. How to Chew Your Food More. http://www.rd.com/health/diet-weight-loss/chew-more-eat-less/

[iv] Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. Most of the World Belongs to the Clean Plate Club – Except Children. http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/op/Clean_Plate_Club

[v] Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. How Visibility and Convenience Influence Candy Consumption. http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/content/how-visibility-and-convenience-influence-candy-consumption

[vi] Cornell University Food and Brand Lab. Short, Wide Glasses Induce Us to Over-Pour Despite Serving Experience. http://foodpsychology.cornell.edu/op/glassshape

Seven reasons to think about going dry this July …

Do you enjoy the odd beer, wine or cocktail? Many of us do. But sometimes, do you find that you overdo it? Or, that the morning-after-fuzziness sometimes interferes with your day? Perhaps your waistband is feeling tighter and tighter? It could be time to tame your tipples …

Dry July is upon us – it’s the charity fundraiser that challenges participants to ditch alcohol to support adults living with cancer. Here are some reasons to try it!

  1. Drop a kilo or two …

Stock-image-lose-weight_blogIf you’re exercising (and even watching what you eat) and still not seeing the weight shift, it could be due to the added effects of boozy beverages. Why? Alcohol provides 29 kilojoules per gram, that’s second only to fat (at 38 kilojoules per gram) so it’s a concentrated kilojoule source. As it is metabolised in the liver, and because your body wants to get rid of it as soon as possible, it is converted into fat and laid down around your middle. Plus, when your body detects alcohol, it stops breaking down fat in order to concentrate on ridding the body of booze. On top of all that, alcohol is an appetite stimulant, making you want to eat more – wonder why chips and kebabs go hand-in-hand with a boozy night out? This cranks up the kilojoules even more. And, if you’re drinking, you’re less likely to be exercising, too.

  1. Say bye bye to hangovers

We all know that hangovers are caused by drinking too much alcohol. But as you get older, your body naturally carries less water so the dehydrating effects of alcohol get magnified. Dehydration can result in, and also aggravate, an already thumping headache. And, the feelings last longer and feel more intense the more dehydrated you are.

  1. Medication safety

Since alcohol is metabolised in your liver, if you take medicines that are also processed in your body’s waste management system, the rate at which alcohol is handled and detoxified could be slowed. Even some over-the-counter medicines can do this, for example, the heartburn drug, ranitidine hampers alcohol breakdown in the liver. So if you take it, you may well have higher blood-alcohol levels when you’re drinking. Plus, alcohol may interfere with the way that your body processes prescription drugs making some less effective and others circulate in such high levels that they are potentially toxic. Alcohol can also dangerously exaggerate the action of sedative drugs. Speak with your GP for more information.

  1. Brain matters

As you get older, your brain is more likely to be affected by alcohol. Alcohol triggers the release of feel-good neurotransmitters, which is why a small amount helps you feel relaxed. But with age your body produces fewer uplifting endorphins and more stress hormones like cortisol. This stress effect contributes to worsening the side effects of alcohol as your body tries to recuperate. Or, you just may feel it all the more acutely because you don’t drink as often as you might have done in the past …

  1. Sleep better, snore lessStock-image-sleeping-young-couple_blog

While one nightcap can relax you, too much robs you of restful sleep. After a few too many drinks, you can wake feeling like you haven’t slept at all. Cut the booze and you’re more likely to wake feeling refreshed and have a clearer head, too. Drinking too much alcohol also increases your chances of snoring because it relaxes the muscles that hold the throat open.

  1. Clearer, less puffy skin

Alcohol causes the peripheral blood vessels (those close to the surface) to expand and widen. If these are repeatedly enlarged, the result can be thread veins and permanent skin damage, making you look red and flushed. Facial puffiness is caused by the gentle leakage of fluid from enlarged blood vessels. Often, it settles in the eyes and cheeks where the skin is the loosest and can take on more fluid.

  1. You may look at alcohol differently

Stock-image-dancing-at-club_blogA month off the booze may help you to think more carefully about your drinking habits – hopefully for the better. Fairly recently, scientists discovered the link between alcohol and cancer. This includes bowel, breast, stomach and prostate cancer, as well as mouth and throat cancers. In 2005, there were nearly 3,000 new cases of cancer and 1,376 deaths from cancer due to excessive alcohol consumption[i]. And, as you probably already know, alcohol is a risk factor for liver disease (cirrhosis) and the potential for it increases as your alcohol intake increases. See the table below.

MEN[ii]     WOMEN

1 drink/day                            21%        32%

2 drinks/day                         45%        73%

3 drinks/day                         72%        125%

6 drinks/day                         171%     364%

10 drinks/day                      338%     969%

Stick to the Australian Alcohol Guidelines[iii]

For healthy men and women, drinking no more than two standard drinks on any day reduces your risk of harm from alcohol-related disease or injury over a lifetime. Drinking no more than four standard drinks on a single occasion reduces the risk of alcohol-related injury arising from that occasion.

A standard drink …

1 standard drink = 10g alcohol which is equivalent to:

  • 100ml of table wine
  • 30ml of spirits
  • 250ml of beer

But one drink isn’t always just one drink!

  • An average restaurant serve of wine of 180ml 12% Alc./Vol = 1.8 drinks
  • A 375ml can of full strength beer 4.9%Alc./Vol = 1.5 drinks
  • A 375ml can of pre-mix spirits 5%Alc./Vol = 1.5 drinks

Check the label to find out how many standard drinks are in your serve.

You can’t rectify a long-term problem by taking a month off alcohol. Taking a month off and going back to it with a vengeance will undo your hard work and just as before, problems will accumulate with time.

Even if you decide not to go dry in July, cutting down and being more focused on how much you’re drinking can really give your health a boost.

For more information:

Dry July 2015: https://au.dryjuly.com

Alcoholics Anonymous: http://www.aa.org.au

Cancer Council Australia: http://www.cancer.org.au

[i] Cancer Council Australia. Improving alcohol control. http://annualreview.cancer.org.au/2009-10/LeadingChange/ImprovingCancerPrevention/EncouragingHealthyLifestyle/ImprovingAlcoholControl.htm

[ii] National Health and Medical Research Council. Australian Guidelines to Reduce Health Risks from Drinking Alcohol. https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/ds10-alcohol.pdf

[iii] Department of Health. Alcohol – Reduce your risk: new national guidelines for alcohol consumption. http://www.alcohol.gov.au/internet/alcohol/publishing.nsf/Content/guide-adult