Wilson’s disease is a very rare genetic condition that may affect one in 30,000–40,000 people worldwide.1 In people with this condition, the liver doesn’t transport extra copper into the bile as it is supposed to because of the malfunctioning of a copper-binding protein. This causes copper to build up in the liver and results in liver damage. The copper may also accumulate in other organs such as the kidneys, brain, and eyes. The changes to the central nervous system can cause neurological and psychiatric problems, apart from hepatic symptoms.2
People with Wilson’s disease have a range of symptoms such as tremors, trouble swallowing or speaking, personality changes, bloating and pain in the abdomen, swelling in the feet, ankles, legs, face, or hands, itching, jaundice, and muscle cramps. Greenish gold or gold rings around the irises are a signature sign of this condition.3
Treatment for Wilson’s disease may be lifelong and focuses on halting the progress of the condition and preventing organ damage. Without proper care, Wilson’s disease can result in significant organ damage over time and may be fatal by the age of 30. Some people with significant liver damage may also require a liver transplant.4 Here are some mainstream and alternative treatment options you can consider to manage the condition:5
1. Take Medicines That Help Expel Copper
This is the first line of treatment for Wilson’s disease, aimed at controlling the amount of copper that builds up in the body. Chelating agents are typically prescribed to deal with this condition. These medicines release copper from your organs into your bloodstream. From there, your kidneys filter out the copper so that it is removed through your urine. The sooner you start copper-expelling medicines the better.
You may need to take medicines first to correct the copper overload and then to maintain the negative balance. This is often a lifelong process. Once the level of copper in your body is at a safe point, your doctor may adjust your treatment plan and continue to monitor you. Discontinuing medication can lead to copper buildup and organ damage.6
2. Follow A Low Copper Diet
Keeping to a low copper diet is an important part of managing this condition. Your doctor will help oversee and modify your diet so you can keep your copper intake low and, at the same time, get all the necessary nutrients. Here are a few useful pointers:
- You might need to avoid foods with a high copper content such as mushrooms, chocolate, nuts, dried fruits like prunes, dates, and raisins, soy products, shellfish, and organ meat initially. Later on, as treatment progresses and the condition is brought under control, you may be able to have these in moderation with your doctor’s go-ahead.
- If your water comes via copper pipes or from a well, it might have high copper levels. So you’ll need to test whether the copper content is acceptable before drinking this water.
- Don’t use copper vessels or containers to prepare or store drinks or food.
- Don’t take any dietary or vitamin supplement that contains copper.7
3. Have Zinc Supplements
Your doctor will generally prescribe a zinc supplement once your symptoms begin to improve after treatment with a chelating agent. This is also prescribed to people with Wilson’s disease who have no visible symptoms. Zinc salts can hamper the absorption of copper in your digestive tract and help reduce the buildup of copper in the body.8 But do keep in mind that it’s important not to self-medicate. You need to take zinc supplements prescribed by your doctor to tackle this condition as ordinary nutritional supplements or dietary zinc may not be sufficiently effective.9
4. Avoid Alcohol
Alcohol spells trouble for your liver. It can accelerate the progression of Wilson’s disease and worsen its effects. If you have a liver condition, it’s always best to steer clear of alcohol or at least limit your consumption to very low levels. In case you have cirrhosis, do take care to completely avoid alcohol.10
5. Take Vitamin E
Experts suggest that vitamin E supplementation can be useful as an adjunctive treatment for those with Wilson’s disease. Oxidative stress has been found to play a critical role in this condition and, as a powerful antioxidant, vitamin E may be able to counter this. Some research also indicates that people with Wilson’s disease have low levels of vitamin E.11 12 Your doctor will be able to guide you on the right dosage.
6. Try Milk Thistle
Milk thistle is a natural remedy that can help reduce the risk of liver failure if you have Wilson’s disease. This herb is known for its ability to support the liver thanks to a flavonoid called silymarin in it. This strong antioxidant has been found to help regenerate injured liver cells and halt the development of cirrhosis in those who have inflammatory liver conditions. It may even improve liver function and survival in those who do have cirrhosis.13 14
But remember, some milk thistle products found in the market tend to have a high copper content. Do take care to avoid these if you decide to use milk thistle. Your doctor should be able to recommend a milk thistle or silymarin product that’s suitable for you.15
7. Have Turmeric
Golden spice turmeric can also help those with Wilson’s disease. Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin which is responsible for its beneficial effects. Not only does curcumin have potent antioxidant properties, it also works as a copper chelating agent. You can add turmeric to your cooking or drink turmeric tea to make the most of its benefits. Your doctor may also recommend a curcumin supplement.16
8. Sign Up For Physical Therapy
People with Wilson’s disease often face problems related to balance and gait and can be unsteady on their feet. Some initial research indicates that physical therapy may be able to help counter these problems.17 A physiotherapist can assess your challenges and recommend exercises that improve your static and dynamic balance and functional capacity. These are intended to help with daily functioning and incorporate activities such as standing and balancing on a stable as well as unstable ground, walking up and down stairs, ramps and the treadmill, picking up objects from the ground, etc.
9. Try A Comprehensive Ayurvedic Regimen
The ancient science of ayurveda classifies Wilson’s disease as a liver disease dominated by pitta. Treatment, therefore, focuses on regulating pitta, expelling toxins (ama) from the body, boosting the digestive fire (agni), and detoxifying and protecting the liver. One case study found that a comprehensive treatment plan which involved having a regulated diet and herbal medicinal formulations such as paṭolamuladi kasaya, dhatriloha, dasamulariṣṭa, amrita satva, along with therapeutic purgation or nitya virechana, helped tackle Wilson’s disease and halt its progress successfully. Do consult an experienced ayurvedic practitioner who can prescribe an appropriate treatment plan for you. It is also a good idea to keep your doctor posted about alternative remedies you will be trying. This is to avoid any interactions with other medication you are on.18
|↑1, ↑9||Wilson Disease. National Organization for Rare Disorders.|
|↑2||Hedera, Peter. “Update on the clinical management of Wilson’s disease.” The application of clinical genetics 10 (2017): 9.|
|↑3, ↑5, ↑6, ↑8||Wilson Disease. National Institutes of Health.|
|↑4||Wilson Disease. Merck Manual.|
|↑7||Wilson’s Disease. British Liver Trust.|
|↑10||Wilson’s Disease. British Liver Trust.|
|↑11||European Association For The Study Of The Liver. “EASL clinical practice guidelines: Wilson’s disease.” Journal of hepatology 56, no. 3 (2012): 671-685.|
|↑12||Fryer, Michael J. “Potential of vitamin E as an antioxidant adjunct in Wilson’s disease.” Medical hypotheses 73, no. 6 (2009): 1029-1030.|
|↑13||Milk Thistle. University of Michigan.|
|↑14||Jedlinszki, Nikoletta, Ildikó Kálomista, Gábor Galbács, and DezsÅ Csupor. “Silybum marianum (milk thistle) products in Wilson’s disease: a treatment or a threat?”. Journal of Herbal Medicine.|
|↑15||Jedlinszki, Nikoletta, Ildikó Kálomista, Gábor Galbács, and DezsÅ Csupor. “Silybum marianum (milk thistle) products in Wilson’s disease: a treatment or a threat?”. Journal of Herbal Medicine.|
|↑16||Sutiono, Dias Rima, and Giardani Syafitri Sudiro. “Wilson’s Disease: Current Therapies, Its Controversies, and Potential New Therapeutics.” Cermin Dunia Kedokteran 45, no. 1 (2018): 24-27.|
|↑17||Maiarú, M., A. Garcete, M. E. Drault, and A. Mendelevich. “Physical Therapy in Wilson’s Disease: Case Report.”|
|↑18||Kiran, Shashi. “SUCCESSFUL AYURVEDA MANGEMENT OF WILSON’S DISEASE WITH COMPLICATION-A CASE STUDY”. European Journal of Pharmaceutical and Medical Research, 2017,4(9), 809-811.|