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Hepatitis C Alternative Treatments

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

Complementary and Alternative Options for Hepatitis C continued...

Thymus extract comes from the thymus gland of cows. Because the thymus helps regulate immune function, it has been speculated that its extract might boost the immune system in hepatitis C patients, but too few studies have been done to confirm this theory. A small study of Complete Thymic Formula, a dietary supplement containing thymus extract, as well as vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, found that this supplement did not benefit hepatitis C patients who had failed conventional treatment. Although this study noted only one side effect (a drop in blood platelets), there is concern that thymus extract might be prone to contamination because it comes from animals. People with immune problems (such as HIV/AIDS) should use caution when taking thymus extract.

Ginseng has been used to boost the immune system, and there is some evidence that it might help people with other types of liver conditions. However, it hasn't been studied well enough in people with hepatitis C to show any benefit. And because ginseng can decrease blood sugar and increase risk for bleeding, it should be used very carefully.

Schisandra is a plant that has been used for centuries as part of traditional Japanese medicine. In one small study, a Japanese herbal medicine called TJ-108 containing schisandra fruit had an antiviral effect on hepatitis C. However, the researchers aren't sure whether the schisandra or other ingredients in the herbal remedy were responsible for this effect.

St. John's wort has gained popularity for treating mild to moderate depression. Some patients with hepatitis C take the herbal remedy to counter the side effects of conventional treatment, but there is no evidence that it works.

Lactoferrin is a protein found in milk, as well as in the tears and saliva. A few small studies have found that when it is taken as part of a dietary supplement, lactoferrin may lower levels of the hepatitis C virus in the blood and improve liver function. It may be useful when taken together with standard medication, but this remains to be seen in future trials.

Other hepatitis C treatments include massage, acupuncture, and relaxation therapy. Although none of these treatments has been shown in scientific studies to work, there is anecdotal evidence that they may help relieve hepatitis C pain and ease some of the side effects of standard treatment.

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Reviewed on September 11, 2011

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