Hepatitis C: Symptoms and Herbal Treatments

Case studies from an herbalists notebook: herbs for combating the hepatitis C virus.

| July/August 1997

Ron, a forty-year-old engineer, came into my clinic about a year ago. He had been diagnosed with hepatitis C, an inflammation of the liver caused by a virus or by some medications and toxins. Ron needed some help treating his symptoms, which included headache, mild fatigue, and lack of appetite.

Ron told me he had a good family support system, lived in a medium-sized city, and spent an hour commuting every workday. I listened to his health history and that of his parents, then asked about his past and current habits. I was particularly interested in whether he had been at risk for the hepatitis C virus. Risk factors for hepatitis C include blood transfusions or sharing intravenous needles, but Ron had not developed his disease either of these ways.

I next asked Ron how he had treated his liver during the last twenty years. He told me that he had been a heavy drinker for more than ten years, but now drank only one to two times a week. He took aspirin several times a week for headaches and drank a cup or two of coffee in the morning. He also drank colas almost daily. He had stopped eating red meat a few years before, depending more on chicken and fish for protein.

Ron complained about periods of irritability that he couldn’t explain, a sure sign of liver stress, according to Traditional Chinese Medicine. I noticed that one of his eyes was a bit bloodshot, and he confirmed that his eyes were often dry, especially at night. In traditional medicine systems, the eyes are closely linked to liver health. His pulse felt like a taut string under my fingers and his tongue was bright red on the sides, two signs that, to the practitioner of Chinese medicine, indicate that the liver is congested and affected by excess “heat”. In Western terms, this might mean blood is not moving smoothly through the liver because of constricted blood vessels, impeding the removal of toxins from the blood. The liver might be susceptible to “microinflammation” because it becomes increasingly stimulated as it tries to deal with an increased workload of detoxification and processing of proteins and fats. I diagnosed “liver qi (energy) stagnation” and “liver fire rising”.

A mystery virus

Hepatitis C affects about four million people every year in the United States and is the most common cause of chronic hepatitis worldwide. It can lead to cirrhosis and death. In many cases, the disease is not discovered until it is well-established. In fact, ­hepatitis C is the leading cause of liver transplants in the United States. Mickey Mantle was a well-known sufferer of hepatitis C.

Not much is known about this virus. It was “discovered” in 1989, when the old designation “non-A, non-B” hep­atitis was formally recognized as hepatitis C. It often takes years after infection for an individual to develop its major symptoms, including headaches, body pain, mild fatigue, and depression. Some people with hepatitis C never develop symptoms. Besides drug users and those who have had transfusions, health-care workers are also at risk, as is anyone dealing with blood, including tattoo artists. It is very rare that hep­atitis C can be sexually transmitted and to date there has been no evidence that the virus can be transmitted between mother and child through breastfeeding. One group of researchers from China report that they found the virus in semen, menstrual blood, and saliva, but these sera do not seem to be effective vehicles for transmission. As always, safe sex is recommended.

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