Accutane, or the nuclear weapon for acne, is certainly not labeled as such for no reason.
This medication will treat anything from deep, cystic, and hormonal acne to severe lesions all over the body.
However, although highly efficient in clearing the skin from years-long acne struggles, it is also one of the most feared treatments due to its potential side effects on the body.
And while some of these side effects are mild and tolerable, others are certainly a cause for concern. One of these is the potential effect Accutane can have on the liver.
Therefore, this article will discuss how to protect your liver while on Accutane and ensure the course of treatment goes as smoothly as possible.
Table of Contents
What is Accutane & How Does it Work?
Accutane is the brand name for the medication known as isotretinoin, an oral medication used to treat severe acne.
Accutane is commonly prescribed to those dealing with severe acne that has resisted previous treatments and those who experience severe acne in larger areas of the body.
Accutane is highly effective as it directly inhibits the function of the oil-producing glands by reducing the gland’s size.
Once the gland’s size is reduced, the gland will produce less oil, and since excess oil mixed with dead skin cells that are stuck inside the pores is essentially food for the acne-causing bacteria, lack of this mixture will cause this stubborn strain to become starved, thus minimizing proliferation and eventually minimizing acne, too.
And while Accutane has an incredibly successful track record in treating severe acne in as little as 2-3 months, the risk of side effects must be considered before opting for this medication.
What Are The Side Effects of Taking Accutane?
Because Accutane shrinks the oil-producing glands in the body, it is known for its rather aggressive consequences, and the list of common side effects includes:
- Dry skin.
- Peeling and flaking.
- Sun sensitivity and sunburns.
- Nose bleeds due to severely dry and chapped skin.
- Joint pain due to drying of the synovial fluid.
While these are common and usually disappear after treatment stops, some less common but more uncomfortable side effects can manifest from taking Accutane.
- Mood swings.
- Stomach aches.
- Hair loss.
- Blurry vision.
Can Accutane Harm Your Liver?
One of the most worrying side effects that can appear due to taking Accutane is liver damage.
This is because the liver is responsible for metabolizing or breaking down the active ingredient of Accutane, which is a high dose of vitamin A, and if the liver is not working optimally, there can be a buildup of the active ingredient, leading to more severe side effects like liver toxicity.
In fact, smaller studies have reported that isotretinoin may increase aspartate transaminase (AST) and alanine aminotransferase (ALT), which are enzymes produced in the liver responsible for its normal functioning.
However, elevated levels of these enzymes usually indicate that a medication you’re taking or unhealthy lifestyle habits like excessive drinking is beginning to have a toxic effect on the liver and causing damage and inflammation.
And while several studies suggest the slight elevation of these enzymes due to Accutane is unlikely to cause any serious damage, and the treatment should not be avoided for appropriate indications, they also mention that close follow-up is important.
How to Protect Your Liver While on Accutane?
Protecting your liver while on Accutane is not necessarily different than what you need to do to nourish your liver, even when you’re not taking any medication.
However, it’s definitely more important to be mindful of your lifestyle choices and habits while on Accutane because the liver is under extra pressure due to the active ingredient.
Therefore, here are a few ways to protect your liver and help it function optimally:
Eat a Nutritious Diet
A nutritious diet that consists of antioxidant-rich foods will help encourage certain enzymes in the body to fight free radicals, protect the liver, and regulate inflammation.
Therefore, some of the best foods to eat while on Accutane are leafy greens, fatty fish high in omega-3s like salmon or mackerel, proteins such as chicken or eggs, and whole grains like oats or quinoa.
However, since making diet changes can be a rather complicated and confusing endeavor, make sure to check out GoodGlow’s ebook, which is an easy-to-understand guide packed with information that will help improve your skin’s health and appearance.
Drink Plenty of Water
Drinking plenty of water might not give you clear skin, but it will help flush out toxins from the body and keep your liver healthy and functioning.
Therefore, whether Accutane makes you thirsty or not, make sure to drink at least 8-10 glasses of water a day.
Maintain a Moderate Weight
Maintaining a moderate weight while on Accutane is vital for two reasons.
Number one is that you won’t have to go on a stronger dose of the medication, which can put your liver under more stress.
And two, being overweight or obese increases the risk of developing fatty liver disease, a condition where fat accumulates in the liver cells and can lead to cirrhosis or scarring of the organ.
Exercising regularly will not only help you maintain a moderate weight but is also a great way to increase fatty acid oxidation, decrease fatty acid synthesis, and prevent liver damage by reducing damage-associated molecular patterns. Additionally, some people experience weight gain when they begin taking Accutane so it’s important to make sure you get regular exercise.
In conclusion, physical activity is a proven therapeutic strategy to keep your liver healthy and boost its functioning; therefore, make sure to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day.
Avoid Drinking Alcohol
The side effects of drinking alcohol while on Accutane can be unpleasant. Since both substances are metabolized by the liver, combining them can increase the risk of liver damage.
Additionally, the combination of Accutane and alcohol can lead to other unpleasant consequences, such as stomach problems, nausea, vomiting, and hangover.
Therefore, while having a glass of wine with dinner now and then is unlikely to cause any serious damage, you should definitely avoid heavy drinking while taking the medication.
Avoid Certain Herbals & Supplements
Certain herbals and supplements have also been linked to potential liver abnormalities; therefore, combining them with Accutane is not a great idea.
For example, supplementation with protein, creatine, or herbal extracts has been found to elevate triglycerides and transaminases in the liver, which are indicators of liver function abnormalities.
Therefore, if you want to supplement with something while on Accutane, make sure to talk to a health provider who knows your medical history.
It’s most likely that one of the main skin concerns you’re going to experience while on Accutane is dry skin.
Therefore, to mitigate the discomfort, you need to make sure you’re using gentle cleansers that won’t further strip and irritate the skin, along with barrier-repairing moisturizers that will help strengthen the skin, as well as protect the skin with frequent application of sunscreen that contains SPF of no less than 30.
Accutane will effectively get rid of hormonal acne by minimizing oil production, reducing the overgrowth of bacteria, and minimizing inflammation.
It’s not uncommon for people who have been on Accutane once to go back to it years after the first treatment.
However, every skin is different, and while you cannot predict whether acne will come back after Accutane, you can help minimize potential triggers by taking better care of your skin, improving your health and diet, and avoiding lifestyle habits that can increase the risk of breakouts.