April 29, 2008 -- Grapefruits may inspire a new treatment for hepatitis C, a leading cause of liver disease.
Preliminary lab tests show that naringenin, a compound found in grapefruit and other citrus fruits, may curb the spread of the hepatitis C virus by 80%.That might give healthy cells a chance to regenerate and stem the tide of hepatitis C's spread.
So say researchers including Yaakov Nahmias, PhD, of Harvard Medical School. They note that there is a "pressing need" for new treatments for hepatitis C infection because current treatments don't always work and can have side effects.
Nahmias and colleagues knew that naringenin counters very low density lipoprotein cholesterol (vLDL, a form of "bad" cholesterol), and they suspected that the hepatitis C virus may "hitch a ride" on cholesterol.
That theory held up in test tube experiments. Naringenin curbed vLDL cholesterol, which made it harder for the hepatitis C virus to spread.
But you might not be able to eat enough grapefruit to get that benefit.
The gut doesn't absorb naringenin very well, so a naringenin drug, delivered intravenously, would be a more likely treatment, the researchers conclude. In further lab tests on mice, naringenin wasn't fatal and didn't raise liver enzyme levels, so an intravenous treatment might be a possibility, the researchers report in May's edition of Hepatology. But it will take more work to develop a naringenin drug for hepatitis C.
Grapefruit may affect certain types of medications, so a grapefruit-based approach might not be right for all patients.