What do Gregg Allman, of the Allman Brothers Band, Steven Tyler of Aerosmith (and lately American Idol), and Pam Anderson have in common? They’re all infected with the hepatitis C virus. And while you might not be one of the other 5 million infected people in the United States, chances are you’re fewer than six Kevin Bacon-y degrees from someone who is.
And that person might well not know it because the symptoms of hepatitis C are often non-existent—or so mild as to be mistaken for something else. The first noticeable symptom is also the most common: fatigue. But it often doesn’t manifest until years after the original infection. Other symptoms of hepatitis C are very similar to flu symptoms—joint aches, muscle pain, loss of appetite, mild fever, and more fatigue—which leads many people to dismiss their symptoms as something routine.
On top of that, hepatitis C symptoms can ebb and flow, and even disappear for a while, so it can be years before a proper diagnosis is made. “The cycle of disease from infection to significant liver damage can take 20 years or more”, writes C. Everett Koop, former Surgeon General of the United States and now director of the C. Everett Koop Institute at Dartmouth.
Hepatitis C is a viral disease that can lead to serious and permanent liver damage. And the conventional drug treatment isn’t particularly fun, nor always successful. Fortunately, there are a number of vitamins and herbs that can help. As a bonus, anything that works with hepatitis C by definition supports the liver, so the supplement program outlined here can actually be used by anyone—whether or not you have hepatitis C—interested in improving overall liver health.
The single best thing you can do if you’ve got any form of liver disease: stop drinking. Completely. Alcohol puts a strain on your liver that isn’t so bad if it’s healthy, but is lethal if it’s not. So if you’ve got hepatitis C, whatever else you do, stop drinking. Period.
You should also stop taking Tylenol or any other product containing acetaminophen—which is the number one cause of hospital emergency admissions for liver failure—on a daily basis. It’s pure hell on the liver. Imagine the common scenario of drinking too much and taking four Tylenol (or more) during the day to “treat” the hangover. If you’ve got hepatitis C and you do that, you’re pretty much asking to be a statistic.
After you stop ingesting those two harmful substances, it’s time to start ingesting liver-supporting nutrients and herbs. I first learned about this “natural treatment” from Burt Berkson, MD, PhD. In 1999, Berkson published a paper called “A conservative triple antioxidant approach to the treatment of hepatitis C: A combination of alpha lipoic acid (thioctic acid), silymarin, and selenium: Three case histories.” In it, he suggested a basic protocol of three supplements that would protect the liver from free-radical damage, increase the levels of other fundamental antioxidants, and interfere with viral proliferation. That protocol is the core of the natural treatment for hepatitis C.
The Big Three
Alpha lipoic acid: ALA is a powerful antioxidant that scavenges free radicals, protects cells from damage, and helps to regenerate vitamins C and E. It’s one of the most powerful liver nutrients available.
Selenium: In January 2007, one of the most conservative publications in medicine, The Archives of Internal Medicine, published an article showing that daily selenium supplements appear to suppress the progression of the viral load in patients with HIV infection. Selenium levels have also been shown to be low in those with hepatitis C.
Milk Thistle: The herb milk thistle is probably the premier liver nutrient. The active ingredient is silymarin, which is believed to be responsible for its medicinal qualities. Milk thistle has been used in Europe as a treatment for liver disease since the 16th century.
More Liver Support
There are a number of other important nutrients that you should consider as part of any liver health program.
N-acetyl cysteine (NAC): This derivative of the amino acid L-cysteine is a precursor to the formation of the powerful antioxidant glutathione. It is one of the best ways to increase glutathione in the body (since glutathione isn’t well absorbed orally, your body has to make it). It’s also important for protecting the liver against the toxic effects of acetaminophen, for those who need to take acetaminophen on an occasional basis.
Whey protein: Though not technically a supplement, whey protein is another powerful way to increase the body’s stores of glutathione. Be sure to get a high-quality powder made by a reputable company (there are several on my website, jonnybowden.com). For liver health, you definitely don’t want to try one of those “fancy” protein shakes—full of sugar or artificial chemicals—that you can find at the mall.
Artichokes: This vegetable has a long folk history in treating liver diseases. The active ingredient is cynarin, which has demonstrated liver-protecting effects. Artichoke extract can be found a many liver-supporting supplement formulas.
Dandelion root: Many people living healthily with hepatitis C swear by this herb and use it to make a tea.
Phosphatidylcholine: The active ingredient in the popular supplement lecithin is actually a substance called phosphatidylcholine, which has been shown to protect against cirrhosis and fibrosis in animal studies. We know that choline—the prime constituent of phosphatidylcholine—is essential for normal liver function, and phos choline is an excellent “delivery system.” In one double-blind British study, hepatitis C patients who were treated with 3 grams of phos choline each day had significantly reduced symptoms compared to control subjects. Many researchers have postulated that phosphatidylcholine has an ability to repair the membranes of liver cells.
Hepatitis C is a disease in which many outcomes are possible. And what you do and the choices you make can have a profound influence on the course of the disease
Natural Prescription for Hepatitis C
|Essential:||Also highly recommended:|
|ALA: 900—1,200 mg in divided doses||NAC: 1,000 mg in divided doses|
|Selenium: 200—400 mcg||Whey protein powder: 1—2 servings
|Milk thistle: 900 mg silymarin||Dandelion root tea: Frequently|
|Phosphatidylcholine: 3 g|
Bluebonnet multi-action whey of life whey protein in Natural Chocolate Blitz Flavor features high-quality whey protein isolate and concentrate with naturally-occurring immunoglobulin for optimal immunity.
gaia herbs liver health features a blend of liver-friendly herbs, including milk thistle, turmeric, Chinese skullcap root, schizandra, and licorice root. The serving is two liquid-filled capsules daily.
NOW Foods alpha lipoic acid highest potency has 600 mg of alpha lipoic acid in one Vcap. Grape seed extract is added to provide additional antioxidant protection, and bioperine enhances absorption.