When you're living with a disease like hepatitis C, it's natural to want to try any treatment possible to relieve your symptoms and improve your quality of life. Standard hepatitis C treatment has come a long way towards curing the disease. However, the drugs don't always work and they can have side effects.
For some patients with the disease, hepatitis C complementary and alternative treatment offers another option. "One of the things I always say is that, obviously, Western medicine does not have all the answers," says Paul Martin, MD, FACP, chief of the division of hepatology and professor of medicine at the University of Miami. "Patients who have been treated in the past and failed to respond are interested in exploring various therapeutic options."
Yet the research on hepatitis C complementary and alternative medicine has been limited, and no study so far has proven any alternative remedy safe and effective for treating the condition. It's difficult to draw any conclusions from the research because studies on alternative remedies are typically not as rigorous as those used to test medications.
"A lot of what the FDA does is not only prove drugs are effective but also that they're safe," according to Martin. "There isn't the same sort of scrutiny of the production of these compounds as there is for prescription and over-the-counter medications."
Determining whether herbal remedies are safe and effective for hepatitis C will become easier as investigators begin to take a more traditional approach to their research, says Victor Navarro, MD, professor of medicine in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. "We're [testing them] like pharmaceuticals so we can really know if there is any benefit."
"I think it's possible that in the future, some of the therapies may actually have some benefit," Martin says.
In the meantime, if you are going to try such therapies for hepatitis C treatment or any other condition, talk to your doctor first. Even though herbal remedies are "all natural," they can still have side effects, and many can interact with medicines you're already taking. "The appropriate thing is to explore all the options for your particular liver disease with a specialist," Martin says.