Hepatitis C: Alternative treatments?

At the moment, an effective vaccine for Hepatitis C is still not available. So, what can be done if you are infected?

The first study of a treatment for hepatitis C was published in 1986, when the infectious agent was still known only as “non-A non-B hepatitis.”[1] It was only a small pilot study (10 patients).  Treatment with the antiviral drug interferon normalized liver function tests, but when treatment was discontinued, patients relapsed. Eventually, an interferon/ribavirin combination became the standard treatment: they were given for 24 or 48 weeks. Cure rates varied from 45% to 80% depending on the genotype of the Hepatitis C Virus.

Interferon is contraindicated in patients with certain medical conditions and serious side effects are common. A systematic review in 2013 showed that a sustained virologic response reduced the risk of liver cancer by 75%[2]. Despite the availability of treatment, the mortality rate from hepatitis C continued to increase.
Several alternative medicine options have been recommended for the treatment of hepatitis C, including[3]:
- Milk thistle (Silymarin did not significantly reduce serum ALT levels more than placebo);
- Licorice root (There is currently not enough evidence to determine if it is helpful);
- Ginseng (Only studied in vitro)
- Thymus extract, zinc (The evidence for these possible benefits is limited)
- SAMe or the enzyme S-Adenosyl methionine (The evidence is not sufficient to draw clear conclusions about benefit or safety)
- Colloidal silver (Sigh)
- Probiotics (Research hasn’t produced any clear evidence that probiotics are helpful in people with hepatitis C)
- Shisandra, TJ-108 (limited research on these products has not produced convincing evidence that they are helpful for hepatitis C)
- Massage, chiropractic care and relaxation techniques (Not studied as a form of treatment).
- Acupuncture is a type of quackery that is associated with an increased risk of acquiring Hepatitis C[4].

So, there is evidence that most of these don’t work, but some of them have not been studied at all.

[1] Hoofnagle et al: Treatment of chronic non-A,non-B hepatitis with recombinant human alpha interferon. A preliminary report in New England Journal of Medicine - 1986 
[2] Croagh et al: Advances in the management of hepatitis C in Internal Medicine Journal - 2013

[3] NIH: Hepatitis C: A Focus on Dietary Supplements - 2008
[4] Ho et al: Prospective study of risk factors for hepatitis C virus acquisition by Caucasian, Hispanic, and Asian American patients in Journal of Viral Hepatitis - 2012

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