Primary Biliary Cirrhosis: Symptoms, Causes, And Treatment

The bile ducts are located in the liver and are needed to produce bile, which is a liquid substance required to break down and metabolize food. Bile is also necessary for removing toxins, cholesterol, and blood cells from the body. Primary biliary cirrhosis, an autoimmune condition, occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks the bile ducts and slowly destroys them, resulting in liver damage and eventually cirrhosis. This condition causes the bile ducts to become inflamed and eventually collapse.



There may be no symptoms at all for years during the early stages of primary biliary cirrhosis. As the disease progresses, patients may begin to experience symptoms such as itchy skin, dry eyes and mouth, fatigue, high cholesterol, greasy diarrhea, hypothyroidism, osteoporosis, ascites, swollen feet and ankles, as well as musculoskeletal pain or inflammation. They may also observe fatty deposits around the eyes, eyelids, knees, and in the creases of palms, hyperpigmentation not related to sun exposure, and pain in the upper right area of the abdomen where the liver is located.



As with most autoimmune diseases, the underlying cause of primary biliary cirrhosis is unknown. It develops when there is an accumulation of T lymphocytes or T cells in the liver, which is a part of the immune system response. In a normally functioning immune system, T lymphocytes recognize foreign invaders and help defend the body against harm, such as bacteria. In individuals affected by primary biliary cirrhosis, the T lymphocyte cells attack and invade the cells lining the bile ducts in the liver, which causes inflammation and destruction of the bile ducts.

Risk Factors


Primary biliary cirrhosis is most likely to develop in women, individuals between the ages of thirty to sixty years old, and in those with a family history of the disease. Certain genetic factors combined with environmental factors such as infection, smoking, and an accumulation of toxins may also contribute to the development of primary biliary cirrhosis. Some individuals may be carriers of the genes related to the disease, but these genes can remain turned off until they are activated by toxins that accumulate due to factors such as a poor diet, lack of exercise, and stress.



Primary biliary cirrhosis may develop into a number of other conditions that affect the kiver and other body parts as liver damage progresses, such as cirrhosis of the liver, portal hypertension, an enlarged spleen, gallstones and bile duct stones, liver cancer, enlarged veins, osteoporosis, deficiencies in vitamins A, D, E and K, and decreased mental function to include problems with memory and concentration as well as personality changes. Primary biliary cirrhosis also increases an individual's overall risk of immune and metabolic disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid problems, and limited scleroderma syndrome.



Although there is no cure for this condition, close monitoring of the disease by a medical professional is recommended to slow the progression of damage in the liver. Medications used for primary biliary cirrhosis may include cholesterol-lowering drugs to maintain liver health, anti-inflammatory medications for swollen muscle and joints, antihistamines to stop allergic reactions, corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and damage, and immunosuppressants to reduce immune activity. In rare cases, a liver transplant may be necessary. Vitamin D supplementation is also an important part of the treatment plan.

Anti-Inflammatory Diet


We already know autoimmune conditions cannot be cured, though it is important to note many of their symptoms can be managed by modifying certain lifestyle factors. Eating an anti-inflammatory diet helps reduce inflammation, which may help put primary biliary cirrhosis and other autoimmune conditions in remission, which refers to a period in which no symptoms are present. An anti-inflammatory diet often includes eating wild salmon once or twice per night, consuming lots of fruits and vegetables, and supplementing with anti-inflammatory herbs such as turmeric and bromelain. Individuals following this type of diet should avoid processed foods such as fast food, refined sugar, gluten, and dairy.

Stress Management


Prolonged stress may result in chronic inflammation, which is a trigger for most autoimmune diseases, including primary biliary cirrhosis. This is precisely why stress management is crucial in treating conditions like this one. Primary biliary cirrhosis patients should manage their stress in healthy ways by exercising, getting plenty of rest, doing breathing exercises, or taking part in yoga and Pilates classes. Exercise does not have to be strenuous to be effective at reducing stress. Individuals can take it outdoors by going for a thirty-minute walk or bike ride three times a week. They should be sure also to include resistance training to support bone health.

Liver Cleanse


A liver cleanse may help individuals flush toxins, reduce inflammation, and boost their immune system. These results can potentially help primary biliary cirrhosis patients effectively manage their symptoms. Individuals looking to do a liver cleanse should start by removing inflammatory and toxic foods from their diet and participate in a juice fast for three to five days. Foods to focus on include bananas, blackstrap molasses, beets, spinach, tomatoes, sweet potatoes, carrots, cucumbers and green, leafy vegetables. Some individuals also like to use coffee enemas during a juice cleanse to further eliminate toxins from the digestive tract. Supplements such as milk thistle, dandelion root, and turmeric are especially beneficial for improving liver health.