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Natural Remedies for Hepatitis C

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Updated January 29, 2013

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Hepatitis C infection is a disease that can result in inflammation of the liver, so it's no surprise that people often search feverishly for information on a medicinal or natural hepatitis C cure. In some cases, hepatitis can lead to cirrhosis (scarring of the liver), liver failure, or liver cancer.

Hepatitis C is caused by the hepatitis C virus, which is typically transmitted through contact with infected blood.

Other types of hepatitis include hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Each type is named for the virus that causes it.

Symptoms of Hepatitis C

In most cases, people with hepatitis C show no symptoms until the virus causes liver damage. However, even when liver damage is not present, some individuals may experience tiredness and/or loss of appetite.

Once liver damage has occurred, people with hepatitis may experience one or more of these symptoms:

  • jaundice (yellowing of the eyes and skin)
  • swollen stomach or ankles
  • easy bruising
  • upset stomach
  • fever
  • diarrhea
  • light-colored stools
  • dark yellow urine

Hepatitis C can be detected through a blood test.

Causes of Hepatitis C

In addition to being spread through contact with infected blood (by sharing drug needles or using an infected person's razor, for instance), the hepatitis C virus can be transmitted through sex with an infected person and from mother to baby during childbirth.

There is no vaccine for the hepatitis C virus.

Treatment for Hepatitis C

Although there is no hepatitis C cure, certain medical treatments may benefit some hepatitis C patients. For instance, antiviral medications can be used to target the hepatitis C virus and help clear it from your body. In cases of severe liver damage, a liver transplant may be necessary.

In addition, a number of lifestyle changes (such as avoiding alcohol consumption and discontinuing use of medications known to cause liver damage) may be helpful for individuals with hepatitis C.

About.com's Guide to Hepatitis is a rich resource for more information on treatment options, beneficial lifestyle changes, and living with this disease.

Alternative Medicine and Hepatitis C

To date, no form of alternative medicine has been proven to successfully treat hepatitis C. However, some research suggests that the following natural substances may be beneficial for hepatitis C patients:

1) Milk Thistle

Milk thistle has not been found to have a direct effect on the hepatitis C virus. However, several studies have shown that the herb may help ease inflammation associated with hepatitis C, stimulate the growth of liver cells, and protect against damage to liver cells.

Although it's generally considered safe, milk thistle may cause a number of adverse effects (including nausea, bloating, and diarrhea).

2) Glycyrrhizin

Preliminary research indicates that glycyrrhizin (a compound extracted from licorice root) may have beneficial effects against hepatitis C. For instance, a 2002 study concluded that long-term treatment with glycyrrhizin helped prevent the development of liver cancer in patients with chronic hepatitis C. (It should be noted that many of these studies have looked at glycyrrhizin administered intravenously, not in supplement form.)

When consumed in large amounts, glycyrrhizin may cause high blood pressure and other adverse effects linked to heart problems (such as low potassium levels).

Safety Concerns for Alternative Medicine and Hepatitis C

The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine cautions that some herbal products may damage the liver. For example, the herbs kava and comfrey have been linked to serious liver damage.

If you're considering the use of any type of alternative medicine in treatment of hepatitis C, make sure to consult your physician first.

Sources

Gordon A, Hobbs DA, Bowden DS, Bailey MJ, Mitchell J, Francis AJ, Roberts SK. "Effects of Silybum marianum on serum hepatitis C virus RNA, alanine aminotransferase levels and well-being in patients with chronic hepatitis C." J Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2006 21(1 Pt 2):275-80.

Kumada H. "Long-term treatment of chronic hepatitis C with glycyrrhizin [stronger neo-minophagen C (SNMC)] for preventing liver cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma." Oncology. 2002;62 Suppl 1:94-100.

Mayer KE, Myers RP, Lee SS. "Silymarin treatment of viral hepatitis: a systematic review." J Viral Hepat. 2005 12(6):559-67.

National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine. "CAM and Hepatitis C: A Focus on Herbal Supplements". NCCAM Publication No. D422
 October 2008

National Institutes of Health. Hepatitis C: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. December 2009.

Torres M, Rodríguez-Serrano F, Rosario DJ, Rodríguez-Perez F, Toro DH. "Does Silybum marianum play a role in the treatment of chronic hepatitis C?" P R Health Sci J. 2004 23(2 Suppl):69-74.

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