Hepatitis C, a liver infection caused by the hepatitis C virus, can be a lifelong condition that leads to serious problems. Treatments have come a long way in recent years and are easier on your body. But side effects like depression, sleep problems, fatigue, and nausea can still cause problems.
That may send you searching for more “natural” therapies. Some complementary and alternative approaches may ease your symptoms or make your treatment more bearable. Others don’t work or can be harmful.
What Might Help
Eating well helps your liver work better and lowers your chance for cirrhosis, scarring that can lead to liver failure. Good health also boosts your immune system to fight off infections. You don’t need a special diet. Load up on whole grains, fruits, and veggies as well as lean protein like chicken, eggs, and fish. If you have cirrhosis, cut back on salt since your body already tends to hang on to fluids.
A massage therapist strokes, kneads, and rubs your muscles and other soft tissues. It won’t treat your hep C, but it can help relieve stress and help overcome tiredness. Ask your doctor for a referral, or find a trained therapist at the American Massage Therapy Association.
Living with hepatitis C can often leave you feeling overwhelmed and anxious. Meditation is a way to concentrate and let both your brain and body relax. You can meditate while you walk, sit, or lie down. Take deep breaths and focus your mind on the present moment. You can ask your doctor for more information or find a class at your local hospital, community center, or fitness center.
Hepatitis C lowers your levels of this mineral, which you need to keep your liver and immune system healthy. Some research suggests zinc may ease your symptoms and make treatments work better. One Japanese study found that people with hep C who took zinc supplements for 7 years greatly cut their chances of liver cancer compared to those who didn’t take it. It may be safe to try, but talk to your doctor first. Limit your daily dose to no more than 40 milligrams from either food or supplements.
It helps your muscles, nerves, and immune system work right. People with hepatitis C are more likely to run low on vitamin D, which we often get from sunlight. If your blood levels are under 30 ng/mL, research suggests that vitamin D supplements may help prevent further liver damage from hep C (although more evidence is needed). But if your levels are normal, there’s no proof that the extra vitamin D will help. If you think you may need more, your doctor will do a blood test to check if you do, and how much.
This ancient exercise combines deep breathing, stretching, poses, and meditation. It can relieve stress and, in turn, help you better manage any pain or treatment side effects. Check with your doctor first, and let your yoga teacher know you have hepatitis C. While yoga is very safe, some poses may be dangerous if your liver is swollen.
What Might Not Help
This herb is widely used for liver disorders, including hepatitis B. Its active ingredient, silymarin, is thought to lower inflammation and spur new liver cells to grow. But the evidence is mixed on whether milk thistle works. Side effects can include nausea, bloating, and diarrhea.
This treatment has long been used for ongoing pain. You may find it helpful for your hep C-related pain and fatigue. But several studies found that acupuncture needles can get contaminated with the hepatitis virus and pass it to other people. Make sure your acupuncturist uses disposable needles. And check that they’re state licensed and certified by the National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine.
Cannabidiol (CBD) Oil
This compound comes from the marijuana plant or its relative, hemp. CBD is legal in some states for both recreational and medical uses, and most other states allow it with a prescription. But despite its popularity for all sorts of ailments, not much research has been done to show that CBD helps with hep C or if it’s safe.
This product has tiny particles of silver that some people claim can help heal wounds and infections. But it’s not safe if you have hep C and may actually harm you. It can cause argyria, which is a permanent discoloration of the skin. The FDA warned consumers against taking it back in 1999.
This extract of licorice root has been studied in some people with hep C. But it’s unclear that it helps. Glycyrrhizin also can be dangerous if you have a history of high blood pressure, kidney failure, diabetes, or heart disease.
These bacteria and yeast can be good for your gut, skin, and other parts of your body. There’s no evidence that they can benefit people with hep C. Probiotics also carry a small but real chance of infection. Since hep C can weaken your immune system, you may want to keep it away.