Is Too Much Protein Good or Bad for Your Liver

Is Too Much Protein Good or Bad for Your Liver

good liver diet protein

Yeah! Liver loving protein is good!

We all want to feel like we are in charge of our choices when it comes to living with a liver disease. The whole protein question is one that leaves us feeling pretty confused. It has been said that too much is not good for you, but we all know that protein is essential for many of our body’s processes. I had to make peace with protein. It has taken a lot of sleuth work, talking to my doctor, and trial and error to find out the facts. Is Too Much Protein Good or Bad for Your Liver? Let’s look at the answer to this important question. We will discuss the functions of protein, how your body processes it, and how to get enough from the right sources to heal your liver.  

Function of Protein – You have probably heard that our body is mostly made up of water. Protein is next in line. Every single cell of your body contains protein. It performs myriads of functions for your body. The list is long and includes top line survival tasks like producing energy, and maintaining cells. Another of it’s occupations is to grow healthy  hair and nails! It helps to build muscles, organs, and your immune system.  It works day and night to manufacture the building blocks of your blood cells! Your body converts it to a source of energy if you do not have enough carbohydrates to burn. It also helps to repair damaged muscle tissue, which is why it gets a lot of attention from athletes. Protein is the beginning and end of so many functions, all the way from hormone regulation to toenail growth. So you can see that getting good protein in your diet should be a major priority every single day.

There are some signs that you are not getting enough protein.  If you notice that you are constantly craving carbohydrates, you may be low on protein. Any time your body is lacking protein and looking for something to help it do its job, it can trigger blood sugar ups and downs. It could be that your body is crying out for protein to stabilize your blood sugar.  Another indication is if you are flat out tired all the time. If you are having a general lack of energy, try a protein snack and see if it helps you fee less weak.  Frail or small and flabby muscles are another sign that I noticed right away. When I tried to walk to help my legs get stronger, my muscles would ache. They were not getting enough protein to repair and stay strong! Your hair and fingernails can also be an outward sign that your protein intake is too low. Brittle hair and nails, or ridges in your nails can point to a need for amping up your protein intake!

Too much protein is fairly easy to recognize also. Your body cannot store protein, so it builds up as extra weight. Your high cholesterol level on the lab work may also be an indication that you are taking in too much protein. That is one more reason to eat protein from healthy, low fat sources. Small meals throughout the day are the easiest to process. Of course, most of us know that food coma feeling. Brain fog or Hepatic Encephalopathy might be an indication that you have pushed the protein intake a little too far too fast!

Processing Protein – What happens when you eat protein?  I first learned about protein when my granddaughter was born with an allergy to milk. She had to use a special formula that had was made of the basic amino acids. I still don’t understand it all, but I learned a lot! Take your body weight and divide it by 2. THAT is how many grams you should consume daily. Find out more about how vital protein is.  

good bad protein cirrhosis

The amino acid necklace

It boils down to this: In order to create proteins, you have to have amino acids. The minute we eat or drink foods containing protein our digestive juices kick in and begin breaking them down into those amino acids. There are 22 of them and they form a chain that looks like a necklace. Each of those amino acid beads string together to form the proteins that your body can use. Out of the 22 amino acids, 9 of them MUST be supplied by your diet. They are essential to your health which is why they are called the essential amino acids.

Break it down – Here is where it gets tricky for someone with liver disease.  Protein can be hard for the liver to break down. If there is extra protein that your body cannot digest easily, it creates nitrogen. That begins a chain reaction culminating in ammonia. The short version is that it create toxins. When your body gets a whiff of those toxins in your bloodstream, it can result in brain fog, lethargy, and Hepatic Encephalopathy. You can see why finding the right balance is crucial!

Pick Your Protein – Animal or plant based – Which is best?

Animal Protein – Some people believe that animal sources of protein are the best. Many different diet plans promote the idea that eating a lot of meat protein is the key to health and maintaining weight. They build on the fact that animal proteins such as meat, milk or dairy are considered a complete protein. That is because most animal based proteins can contain all 9 of the essential fatty acids. So a steak or cheeseburger will definitely supply what your body needs quickly.  

Plant Protein – On the other hand, if you eat a vegetarian diet, you have to eat a wide variety of plant based proteins to get all the essentials. A peanut butter sandwich can also be considered a complete protein. Peanut butter alone is not, but when you add the bread, it is considered a complete protein meal. Beans are also good, but they need to be served with rice or another grain, such as quinoa to supply the 9 essential fatty acids needed to make a complete protein meal.

You Can Have It All – I personally go for a combination of both. I love to eat well and mix it up with both animal and plant protein food sources. The key is diversity. If I try and restrict myself to straight up plant protein, I get bored. By adding a little meat, I am able to enjoy the added flavor and variety. Remember, you do not have to eat a complete protein with every meal or snack. Just be sure that you sprinkle it throughout the day, or night if you have reverse sleep pattern and wake up hungry! I eat just before bed and also have a spoon of peanut or almond butter in the middle of the night if I wake up hungry! The main sources of protein in my diet are protein shakes, beef, fish, chicken, beans, eggs, cheese, yogurt, nuts, grains, and seeds.

protein good bad liver cirrhosis

Your choices are many! These are just a few.

Just switch it up! I drink a protein shake for breakfast that has a lot of amino acids. Then for lunch I go for a sandwich, protein bar, or salad with meat. Dinner is also a combination of both meat and plant protein such as a shrimp stir fry, bean burrito or tacos, or soup with lots of chicken and vegetables.

Protein is needed by the liver in order for it to heal. My transplant doctor has stressed from the beginning that a good protein intake is the first step in helping me to stay alive. I have been riding the protein see saw for almost 4 years now. On my last visit, he even stated that in order to reverse fibrosis, protein is crucial. He reads a lot, and while I do not always understand what he is talking about, I always listen to his advice.

Dr. Elbeshybeshy at Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Center in Oklahoma City is always learning how to best help his patients. He has kept me alive this long and I trust him with my whole heart. He gets really excited when he talks about ways of helping my liver to heal and with End Stage Cirrhosis. This news was pretty thrilling to me.  It also confirmed my need to eat good protein!

good protein vegetables cirrhosis hepatitis

Look at all these high protein vegetables.

Recap:

We have learned about the science of how protein functions in our body at a cellular level.

We also talked about how we process it by breaking it down into amino acids.

Most important, we covered how finding the right combination of protein sources can help your liver to heal and even reverse the damage of scarring from fibrosis.

By knowing how to choose good sources of protein, I am counting on healing my liver naturally from Cirrhosis and the effects of Hepatitis C. Is Protein Good or Bad for Your Liver? The wrong sources eaten in poor quantities can be bad. But the right proteins eaten in the right quantities can be a key factor in healing.  

Always striving to learn more about healing and making the right choices for our lives, I am your Best Friend in the battle against Hepatitis C and Cirrhosis. And I love you dearly, Karen:)

Pics via functionalfit.com, runningcompetitor, veganrecipeins, divahound.com

16 thoughts on “Is Too Much Protein Good or Bad for Your Liver

  1. Excellent! Well done Karen! I have struggled mightily with the diet dilemma for four years as there seems to be so much conflicting advice out there. The best news for me in your article? I can have a little cheese! Woo-hoo, I have been avoiding all dairy except for eggs. This is much appreciated and so valuable, thank you!

    1. Will,

      You crack me up. It’s the little things in life isn’t it? Cheese does make it’s own sodium so that’s my big caution. Swiss is fine, but I love a sharp cheddar! Haha! I do drink almond or rice milk. I love a big glass of milk, but the symptoms of brain fog come on quick for me.

      I really appreciate you. Catching up tonight and love love love seeing your feedback. It’s so important to me and to other readers as well. You’ve been my friend for a while now. Your opinion means a lot. Anytime I can connect with a friend in an area of common concern, it reminds me of why I blog.

      Your best friend,
      xo Karen:)

      1. Hey there Karen, still loving your web site. I have been away for a bit (back surgery 8 weeks ago)
        I am back and reading. Thanks for the information about milk causing you brain fog. Can you share any other things that might cause brain fog?

        I love milk more than just about anything but if it is adding to my brain fog, it will have to go.

        You are the best! Thanks so starting up this site and helping everyone.

        Love
        Dee1956 :) er…Dorene

        1. Dee,

          How awesome to hear from you! Gosh sister friend, I hope you’re ok! Back surgery with end stage cirrhosis. You’re amazing. I hope you are doing well. Is your back healing nicely? How was the anesthetic? How long were you under? Gosh I have a million questions. lol. It is just really good to hear from you.

          I try not to do any animal protein. I love milk and drank mostly skim. It is one less thing to worry about for me. But if you are not having problems,a little bit probably won’t hurt. What does your doctor advise? I also have stomach varices, so stomach acid can be a problem. Basically, it is just easier to drink rice milk with cereal and in recipes.

          I love you girl. Please stay in touch. I’m happy to hear that you are doing well. I’m reading about brain fog/hepatic ecephalopathy. I recently sat in on a forum. Look for another blog with more detail soon. I love you girl!
          xoxo Karen:)

  2. Hi Karen

    I think the tough question for all of us is, finding the right diet for optimum health. Our requirements seem to be different as pertaining to our own bodies. What is perfect for one might not be the answer for someone else.

    It seems like I have been looking for that magic combination for me for over 40 years. I get explanations that account for the way I feel and then embark on another possible alternative. Sometimes they are perfect, or at least they start out that way and soon there is another issue I need to address. I have been to doctors on occasion and have never really been satisfied with what they suggest. They give me medicine that doesn’t work or only partly works. So I go for finding natural alternatives. It keeps me out of urgent care, but still nothing is the perfect fix.

    Someday I shall have to find an alternative doctor that can tell me everything they can figure out. My brother goes to a reflexologist , but I haven’t done that yet. Although she doesn’t have all the answers for him either.

    When a person is never really “sick” in the sense of the word it is hard to explain that you know there ought to be better health out there for you, but it keeps eluding me.

    I shall look in to more on the liver. I guess a healthy liver is the key to a healthy body. Thanks for sharing this info.

    Mary
    Mary Stephenson recently posted…What is Team Work?My Profile

    1. Mary,

      You are like so many people who want to eat healthy, but the rules of what is good or bad is hard to decipher. I had a lot of friends on the protein diet by some doctor. I just never felt good without a balance of different kinds of proteins and carbs.

      It sounds like you continue to look for the right balance also. It may take time, but it sounds like you’re on the right track. I will say that if we followed every new piece of medical research, we would go a little crazy!

      Having said that, I ate to feel good for the last several years before I was diagnosed. So when my liver failed, all I had to do was tweak it a bit. I’m with you, we all want to have optimal health and it starts with a diet that we can afford and helps us feel good.

      Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting! I really appreciate you.
      Karen:)

  3. My opinion is “Excess of anything is bad”. I am type 1 diabetic(insulin dependent) hence I take everything in lesser amount, especially the carbs. Proteins I mainly used to take more energy as I cannot intake carbohydrate more but still I take protein in lower amount. Thanks for the post
    Atish Ranjan recently posted…Chrome Extensions which I use EverydayMy Profile

    1. Atish,
      Thanks for stopping by to comment! I am happy to hear that you are using a good diet and nutrition to help manage your diabetes. Getting good amounts of protein is a juggling act that we all have to work on continuously. All my best to you in your continued journey to health!
      Please forgive my late response. My hand has troubled me.
      I hope you have a wonderful week!
      Karen:)

  4. This is an interesting discussion given the pros and cons. This statement near the top should be clarified “Take your body weight and divide it by 2. THAT is how many grams you should consume daily.” Taken literally, that’s an impossible amount of protein.
    Much love and light
    Don

    1. Don,

      I guess that part needs to be revised. Thanks for pointing that out. This is just a general rule of thumb and there are lots of factors that weigh in. For instance your body weight, activity level, etc. I think my doctor told me that to give me a guideline. We talk a lot about malnutrition, which is really common with liver disease. People are afraid of protein due to hepatitic encephalopathy.

      I want to be aware, and help others to learn that protein is vital for healing. I know that has been a big part of changing my thinking.

      Look for a little more research and an edit to this post. Maybe you have an idea? I really appreciate your input. As best friends, we are all in this together and our combined knowledge and experience is so very important!!

      xoxo Karen:)

      1. Hi Karen,
        Perhaps it was I who was unclear. If I weighed 175 lbs (80 kg) and halved that, it would equal 40 Kg or 40,000 Grams, which would be the impossible amount. For clarity’s sake, perhaps your doctor maybe meant 40 Grams of protein per day, if we divide 80 by 2? Or maybe we would interpret that as dividing weight in POUNDS by 2, to come up in this example as approximately 87 Grams? I tend to over-think things :) and found the sentence to be a bit ambiguous to my way of thinking.

        Indeed, the daily amount of protein is controversial, in general, given the USDA new pyramid, and especially so for those who have cirrhosis, portal vein hypertension, decompensation, and low albumin levels. Yet, it is not proven that increased protein in food will increase albumin levels. I also would like to know what does. There are reports that whey protein (which is high in branched-chain amino acids or BCAA) might be effective. Also Taurine is reputed to increase serum albumin. BCAA are also (reportedly) beneficial for encephalopathy, but as we know, proteins, in general, may increase the severity of encephalopathy. In short, I don’t know.
        This is a link from the Journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology (Nov. 2013) studying BCAA and Taurine (among other sources) in regard to muscle cramps (Taurine is said to increase serum albumin levels). http://www.cghjournal.org/article/S1542-3565%2813%2900414-X/fulltext It’s rather technical. The mechanism is believed to be oncotic pressure (cell fluid exchange) mitigated by serum albumin. More research is needed. xoxo
        Don

        1. Hello Don,

          I’m glad you posted this info. Dr. Donald Jenson from University of Chicago actually sent me that article and I read it while researching for the blog. You’re right, some of it is too techinical. I have to read and reread to get some general how to knowledge that I am confident in.

          I think that is the point, isn’t it? We know that new information is emerging all the time. For example, they used to say that cirrhosis would not reverse. Now it is pretty commonly accepted knowledge that areas of the liver regenerate in a healthy way. That whole thing could be updated and changed. There is a ratio that some use, and I can post it. It’s mathmatical.. lol. NOT my forte.

          I put the 1/2 body weight which is a good general rule that we use at our house. I weigh about 115 and aim for 50 grams. I do yoga and either walk or cycle as much as my energy level allows. I don’t want to overload! But I have seen so many people get malnourished with cirrhosis.
          The whole 10 to 35% of your daily calorie intake is a rough one to figure out too. My hard drive is fried and I am using a tiny little chicklet keyboad to do this. I will update it this weekend. I hope they are able to save my word docs. The blog on malnutrition with cirrhosis was in its final stage of edit. :(

          It makes me feel good to post your response though. A lot of people read this blog and they can see your input for more ideas. I love the collaboration Dear Wonderful Friend.

          xoxo Karen:)

  5. Hello there! This is excellent information, thanks so much.
    I looked up information on Web MD and you were very close so I think your rule of thumb was an excellent guideline.
    It said for women an average requirement was 46g, of course if someone was lifting weights or trying to repair their body, it would vary. My son lifts weight and he tries to get in more. Great idea about the peanut butter if you wake in the middle of the night.
    Like you I noticed that the my bicep muscles are not what they were. While I walk it isn’t really helping my arms much so I have started to exercise and lift small weights to try to encourage growth.
    I am also a diabetic so I have to watch everything I eat. It is a pain :) I slacked off on that after tx so am getting back on the horse.

    Thank you again for this very helpful post
    Dee

    1. Hello Dee!

      I love to hear that you too are getting some exercise and trying to stay strong. It’s a decision I make every day. Some days I have more determination than others! Knowing that you are working out gives me encouragement.

      Cool thang that Web MD is right on with what my research and doctors have said. I’ve been cycling lately and also spinning. That makes it even more important! I don’t want to get too little protein. Our muscles will get what it needs even if it has to take it from our heart, which is a muscle too.

      I’ve tried some other butters also. Just started a jar of sunflower seed butter. It’s pretty tasty. I have a friend who uses a soy butter that is dried and you add water. That is a great choice for those who have allergies to peanuts! I haven’t tried it yet. Today I got hungry at work and wanted to snack. I just dipped a spoon in the peanut butter and ate a big spoonful. It got me through the next 2 hours of testing.

      Which reminds me.. I have to get plenty of rest, especially at this time of year. I hope you are doing well sweet one.
      Much love,
      xoxo Karen:)

  6. Wow just randomly found this while searching why my hepc body is insanely craving carbs. Back to beans and rice
    Ate that and peanut butter when i was broke. But now ok and shoveling carbs like crazy
    Bad carbs. This article explained so much
    So glad i found it

    1. Hi Mary!

      Our poor liver works so hard to stay healthy and process food. Fighting Hepatitis C causes so much strain on it. More and more I found that my food is what is keeping me alive and going. That seems like such a simple truth, but as you and I know, it is not easy. I hope that you are feeling better. Beans is a mainstay for me also. Oatmeal is a biggie for me too. It can be said that health food is expensive, but you and I know that where there is a will, there is a way.

      I’m proud of you for being proactive in eating well. It encourages me to know we are doing this together. Keep in touch, ok?
      xoxo Karen:)

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