Yellow lies: Myths about jaundice

Let's clear some common misconceptions about jaundice

Man dringking tea

Jaundice is a term used to describe a yellowish tinge to the skin and the whites of the eye. Often, even the body fluids are yellow. The colour of the skin and whites of the eyes vary depending on levels of bilirubin. Bilirubin is a waste material found in the blood. Moderate levels lead to a yellow colour, while very high levels will appear brown.

There are several myths that surround jaundice. Does turmeric aggravate the symptoms of jaundice? Can sugarcane cure jaundice? Let’s clear these and other common myths about jaundice.

Myths related to Jaundice

Myth 1: Jaundice happens solely due to water-borne infections

Reality: Water-borne infections like hepatitis A and E do cause jaundice but they are not the only causes. Hepatitis B and C, malaria and dengue also cause jaundice and they are not water-borne. Obstruction of the bile duct due to bile stones or cancer also leads to jaundice.

Myth 2: Jaundice is due to liver problems

Reality: Not always. Excess breakdown of red blood corpuscles in the blood and obstruction to the flow of bile can also cause jaundice [known as obstructive jaundice].

Myth 3: Itching means you are recovering

Reality: Obstructive jaundice is often accompanied by intense itching. But it is not a sign of recovery.

Myth 4: Excess sleepiness is normal

Reality: Though fatigue is common, excessive sleepiness [drowsiness] or altered sleep patterns [daytime sleepiness and sleeplessness at night] is not normal. It’s a warning sign that indicates acute liver failure, which needs emergency medical care.

Myth 5: Once diagnosed, you don’t need to investigate further since there is no treatment for the condition

Reality: It is important to evaluate the condition further with the help of liver function tests to know its severity and cause. Only then can we facilitate complete recovery.

Often, the cause of jaundice is treatable. But if we don’t investigate further and get to the root of the problem, the cause might remain untreated, which can lead to complete liver damage [cirrhosis of the liver] or sudden worsening of liver functions [fulminant liver failure], which can be life threatening.

Some causes like obstruction of the bile duct may need either endoscopic intervention or surgery to relieve the condition.

Myth 6: A person with jaundice should eat bland food with no spices and that too in less quantity to help the liver recover fast. The person should also abstain from eating non-vegetarian food.

Reality: You don’t need to switch to a bland diet, as it will do no good. In fact, improper nutrition causes lack of nutrients, which may aggravate nausea.

Doctors advise not eating food with strong flavours during jaundice because it could precipitate nausea. You need to consume a normal diet with moderate spices and eat light and well-balanced meals. This provides the body with the right nutrients and helps the liver heal faster.

Small, frequent meals help keep the food in the stomach as most patients suffer from nausea and vomiting. This improves the overall daily calorie intake, which facilitates recovery. You can eat non-vegetarian food, provided it is cooked adequately and hygienically.

Myth 7: Adults with jaundice should consume anti-inflammatory foods such as turmeric and ginger. However, they need to go easy on the turmeric as the yellow colour of turmeric can aggravate symptoms

Reality: There is no evidence to suggest that consumption of any of these substances helps the liver recover. Also, the yellowness of turmeric (haldi) does not add to that of bilirubin to aggravate the condition. So, consumption of turmeric and ginger in moderation is advised and will not do any harm.

Myth 8: Sugarcane juice is the best treatment

Reality: Although sugarcane is a good source of carbohydrates, which helps increase the nutrition quotient of your diet, it is not a treatment option. Consumption of sugarcane during jaundice may keep the body from becoming weak as appetite is reduced. Also, sugarcane can improve overall health due to its anti-inflammatory, analgesic, antihyperglycemic, diuretic, and hepatoprotective (preventing damage to the liver) effects.

Myth: When a newborn has jaundice, it means that the baby is not adjusting to her mother’s milk; the baby should be fed water instead

Reality: Breast milk is the best, safest and the only complete food option for a newborn. Do not administer water as it may worsen the jaundice and may even cause a host of other infections if it is not clean.

It is important to continue to only breastfeed the baby. You may also have to wake the baby for feeds as babies with jaundice are often more sleepy than others.

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  1. Hello doctor, I live in a PG in Bangalore and I have continuous loose motion and upset stomach on a daily basis because of the food served in the PG. I dont like the food ( too much spice and chilly) but I still have to eat here. Lately I have sleep problems and cant get sufficient sleep during night and later during the day I feel drowsy and my eyes also have become swollen and have baggy eyes. Are these signs of any major ailment that is going to happen to me? Please advise.

  2. Hello Doctor, thanks for your blog. My mother is suffering from cholangiocarcinoma with liver metastasis. The RBC levels have drastically gone down for her and she is suffering from jaundice. Please suggest what need to be done. ERCP with metal stenting is done at docs suggested that it is obstructive jaundice. But as per reports it looks like it is excessive destruction of RBC. Please suggest what to do.

    Rajendra Soni

  3. Hello Doctor… I am so glad & delighted to read your blog on jaundice!! Some days back, I was diagnosed with jaundice & I was really carrying such preconceived notions!! On the other hand, I continued following balanced diet; like meal made with light oil, hygienic food & lots of juices.. It is as simple as that and I could see improvement withing a week or 10 days!!

    Thank you for spreading awareness on myths through your blog!

    Sejal Vaghela


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