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Hepatitis C Alternative Treatments

Experts lay out the pros and cons of herbal remedies and other treatments for hepatitis C.
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Complementary and Alternative Options for Hepatitis C

Hepatitis C complementary and alternative treatments range from herbal remedies such as milk thistle, licorice root, ginseng, and thymus extract, to therapies like massage, chiropractic care, and relaxation techniques. Up to 40% of people with hepatitis C who have failed conventional treatment say they have tried other therapies, and many report less fatigue, an immune system boost, and better gastrointestinal function as a result.

Here are some of the most popular hepatitis C complementary and alternative treatments, and what the research has to say about them:

Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is the most popular herbal remedy for hepatitis C and among the best studied. Milk thistle is thought to both reduce liver inflammation and have an antiviral effect on the hepatitis C infection. A very small study presented at the 2008 European Association for the Study of the Liver conference suggested that milk thistle might decrease levels of the hepatitis C virus in patients who didn't respond to standard medical treatment. However, a previous larger review that looked at several studies concluded that milk thistle does little to reduce the complications of liver disease or improve the results of liver function tests. Though the evidence on milk thistle is so far inconclusive, the herb appears to be very safe with few side effects reported.

Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) uses the active component found in the dried root of the licorice plant. Some studies indicate that it might reduce some of the complications of hepatitis C (including liver cancer) and improve liver function. Licorice root is either taken on its own or combined with other herbs. In one study, patients who took a combination of licorice root, milk thistle, and several other herbs had improved measures of liver enzymes (a marker of liver damage and inflammation) and tests of liver function. Licorice root should be used carefully because it can have significant side effects, including high blood pressure, salt and water retention, and potassium loss. It also can have potentially dangerous interactions with medications such as diuretics, certain heart medications, and corticosteroids.

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