Is weight gain a side effect of the new hepatitis C treatment?

Hepatitis C has long been a disease for which humanity did not have an effective cure. The well-known standard of interferon treatment was only successful in about 50% of cases. In 2013, a new drug under the brand name Sovaldi was introduced to the US market. With a success rate of more than 95%, the new drug changed the game and turned hepatitis C into an easily treatable liver disease.

What’s more, Gilead added 90 mg of ledipasvir, an NS5A inhibitor, to the existing 400 mg formulation of sofosbuvir in Sovaldi. The newly created drug is called Harvoni and it is currently the most successful hepatitis C treatment available.

Harvoni side effects

No drug is without side effects, and even Harvoni is no exception. The most common are headaches (20%) and fatigue (18%), followed by diarrhea and nausea. All of these side effects were discovered during clinical trials and patients should expect some of them during the standard 12-week treatment.

However, more and more hepatitis C patients experience weight gain as a side effect of treatment. In some cases, patients gain no less than 30 pounds in as little as 12 weeks. Does the new treatment stimulate weight gain?

Why do patients with hepatitis C gain weight?

Most likely, the treatment is not a direct cause of the weight gain. However, there are two factors that can influence the increase in body mass during the 12-week regimen:

  1. Headaches and fatigue decrease physical activity.

  2. The immune system burns muscle tissue to fight disease.

Normal physical activity is very important when it comes to maintaining weight. Even simple tasks like cleaning or walking around the mall burn calories and little by little these calories add up. However, when it comes to hepatitis C, headaches and fatigue generally prevent patients from performing those tasks. On the other hand, the people at Harvoni generally find less time and motivation to prepare healthy meals. When you have a headache, taking snacks out of the fridge is much easier than making a healthy home-cooked meal. This adds to the calories consumed and contributes to weight gain.

However, the consumption of food is vital to combat the disease. While you are on treatment, your immune system is overactive and needs extra energy to build antibodies to the hepatitis C virus. Antibodies are made from proteins. That is why it is very important to consume a sufficient amount of protein during treatment. Otherwise, the body that needs protein will begin to burn valuable muscle mass to obtain the necessary building block for the immune system.

Both effects add up and influence weight gain. The important thing to know is that patients in treatment must eat to keep their immune systems healthy. It is true that this, in turn, will increase your body weight. The main focus of treatment remains to cure hepatitis C.

Get energy from fat tissue

The brightest way to get energy to fuel your immune system is by burning excess fat. Most of us have stomach and thigh fat. This fat can be used to support our immune system. The added benefit is that you will not gain weight with Harvoni treatment. Not only this, many people report losing weight when on a proper fat burning program.

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September 12, 2021