Fight Hepatitis C with Holistic Herbs

Often undiagnosed, hepatitis C affects 4 million Americans and millions more worldwide. And herbs may be the best tool for managing the disease.


| March/April 2000


You may have heard of hepatitis C—but how much do you really know about it? Did you know that for every one person infected with HIV, there are more than four infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV)? Did you know that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates there are up to 230,000 new infections each year—in the United States alone?

In fact, hepatitis C is the most common blood-borne disease in the United States, according to a 1999 report in New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). An estimated 4.5 million Americans have HCV—most of them baby boomers—with 2.7 million chronically infected. Worldwide, it’s now the most common form of viral hepatitis.

HCV is often called “The Silent Killer” because it’s a sneaky and potentially serious disease, one that can lie dormant for many years, only to surface in midlife. Sixty-five percent of the infections occur in people aged thirty to forty-nine, according to the NEJM article. Once diagnosed with hepatitis C, patients may have the option to take antiviral drugs, but these potent medicines don’t work in all cases and may have significant side effects. Some patients are told to just “watch and wait” to see if the disease worsens.

Hepatitis C primarily causes inflammation and damage to the cells of the liver, that absolutely essential organ of detoxification and digestion. The virus is unusual because only about one-fourth of people exposed to it develop an acute illness within the weeks following initial exposure. Hepatitis C can remain “latent” and undetected for many years—twenty or thirty years, in some cases. Of those exposed, 70 percent slowly develop chronic infection and liver damage. Twenty percent of those chronically infected eventually develop cirrhosis, the most severe consequence of the disease in which the liver is permanently damaged and scarred. It is estimated that 10,000 people a year die from complications of the disease.



A variety of symptoms

Symptoms of hepatitis C vary depending on the phase of the disease and its severity. In acute infection (remember, not everyone goes through this phase), common symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, flulike symptoms, fatigue, fever, liver pain, jaundice, dark-colored urine, headache, muscle and joint pains, diarrhea, and itchy skin. Chronic disease may be completely free of symptoms, or the symptoms may be fairly subtle: fatigue, weakness, digestive complaints, muscle and joint pain, and itching. Women may experience PMS and other problems with the menstrual cycle. The liver may or may not be enlarged and achy. Severe liver damage, as in cirrhosis, can lead to a highly toxic state, with nutritional deficiencies, bleeding, and mental confusion. People with long-term hepatitis have an increased risk of developing liver cancer. A study by Japanese researcher Masashi Mizokami released last year for the first time at the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases suggests that, if the United States follows the path of Japan, we may soon be seeing an increase in liver cancer cases related to HCV infection.

A case study







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