One of the great health challenges facing our society is the relatively unknown epidemic of Hepatitis C. Although it has been overshadowed by AIDS, it affects more people (estimates run up to four times as many people) and can be just as deadly.
Hepatitis is defined simply as inflammation of the liver. It is an inflammation generally associated with damage or death of liver cells. There are many varieties of hepatitis, some acute hepatitis (attacks that eventually heal), others are chronic (ongoing liver problems). Seven different viruses (termed A, B, C, D, E, F and G) have been identified which cause hepatitis. Types A, B and C are infectius and the most widespread, accounting for approximately 90% of all cases.
Hepatitis A, which infects up to 200,000 Americans annually, is a highly contagious virus that is spread by the fecal-oral route through close person-to-person contact, or by ingesting contaminated food or water. Symptoms include fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, abdominal discomfort, jaundice and dark urine. Infected individuals can unknowingly infect others 2 weeks prior to feeling ill themselves. Up to 22 percent of adult hepatitis A patients require hospitalization and approximately 100 people in this country die every year from the disease.
Hepatitis B is the most common serious liver infection in the world. The virus is transmitted through blood and bodily fluids that contain blood. This can occur through direct blood-to-blood contact, unprotected sex, illicit drug use, and from an infected woman to her newborn during the delivery process.
It is 100 times more infectious than the AIDS virus. The World Health Organization estimates that hepatitis B infections lead to more than one million deaths every year. In the United States, 1 out of 20 people have been infected with HBV (Hepatitis B virus) and each year 200,000 new people will become infected with it. There are over one million chronic carriers of HBV of which 1/3 do not know how they were infected with the disease. 5,000 people die annually from hepatitis B and its complications.
Infected individuals respond to HBV in different ways. There are no symptoms at all in about 50 percent of cases. Approximately 49 percent of infected persons will have some symptoms. The usual signs and symptoms of HBV may include fever, fatigue, muscle or joint pain, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting. the remaining one percent, develop a life-threatening acute inflammation with sudden collapse, fatigue, jaundice and abdominal swelling. It develops very suddenly and acutely, and can be fatal if not treated immediately.
Hepatitis C virus (HCV) occurs when blood or body fluids from an infected person enters the body of a person who is not infected. HCV is spread through sharing needles or "works" when "shooting" drugs, through needlesticks or sharps exposures on the job, or from an infected mother to her baby during birth. Persons at risk for HCV infection might also be at risk for infection with hepatitis B virus (HBV) or HIV.
The Hepatitis C virus (HCV) is a virus that can mutate into multiple HCV subtypes. Some of these subtypes are more virulent than others. Although chronic infection develops 75-85% of infected persons, 80% of the cases have no signs or symptoms. But over time, chronic liver disease develops about 70% of the time. It is the leading indication for liver transplant.
It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control, (CDC) that as much as 2% of the total population of the United States--or up to 5.5 million people--may be chronically infected with HCV. It is by far the leading reason for liver transplants and is responsible for eight to ten thousand deaths yearly in the United States alone. It is estimated that 75% of people infected develop a chronic condition.
The symptom picture of HCV varies over time. Initially the virus may remain asymptomatic for many years, followed by vague symptoms like fatigue, depression, mental confusion and sometimes low-grade fever and upper abdominal discomfort. With most people, a diagnosis is made at this stage, often following routine blood work. Later, as the disease progresses, other more serious signs such as liver enlargement, cirrhosis and mental decline may occur. The time from infection to end-stage liver disease may be as long as 20 or even 30 years. It stands to reason that a healthy lifestyle with a minimum of toxins and alcohol may slow this progression.
Conventional treatment of HCV is aimed at patients who show evidence of progressive liver disease through a biopsy generally after these patients present with symptoms. Current standard therapy includes alpha-interferons, sometimes combined with another anti-viral medicine, ribavirin (Rebetol).
Interferons are proteins that are naturally occurring in the human body and that have been shown to have anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-scarring properties. However, there are significant side effects with pharmaceutically produced interferons, including debilitating depression. As a result, many patients treated with alpha-interferons also are prescribed anti-depressants like Prozac and Zoloft, usually starting a month prior to beginning the treatment as a preventative measure.
In addition, only about 20% of those treated respond to alpha-interferon therapy, and that percentage is even lower in people infected with the more virulent strains.
Compared to the conventional methods, complimentary medicine offers a relatively abundant and effective variety of treatments. These include - but are not limited to - acupuncture and chinese herbs, diet and nutrtion, homeopathy
HEP C - II
The Liver is the largest internal organ in the human body. Its functions are amazingly complex, affecting virtually every metabolic process, either directly or indirectly. The liver carries out hundreds, if not thousands, of sophisticated enzymatic reactions along numerous metabolic pathways. Due to its effect on the nutritional state of the body, when liver function is compromised, other aspects of health may suffer as a result.
The liver also provides the body's primary way of dealing with pollution and toxins. In its programmed efforts to rid the body of man-made toxins, the liver can paradoxically generate toxins that damage its own tissue. Considering that in our daily lives we deal increasingly with man-made environmental toxins such as pesticides, auto exhaust, pollution, pharmaceuticals and the like, it should not be entirely surprising that liver disorders are pandemic.
One of the most serious and widespread liver diseases is Hepatitis C (HCV). This is a viral condition transmitted through the blood or body fluids of an infected person to a person who is not infected. It is spread through sharing needles, through needlesticks or sharps exposures on the job, or from an infected mother to her baby during birth.
Current conventional treatment is mostly commonly focuses on alpha-interferons, sometimes combined with another anti-viral medicine, ribavirin (Rebetol). Interferons are proteins that are naturally occurring in the human body and that have been shown to have anti-viral, anti-inflammatory and anti-scarring properties.
But interferon treatment often has significant side effects, including debilitating depression. As a result, many patients treated with alpha-interferons also are given anti-depressants that such Prozac and Zoloft.
In addition, only about 20% of those treated respond to alpha-interferon therapy, and that percentage is even lower in people infected with the more virulent strains. Also, the possibility of developing a vaccine for HCV has been hampered by the propensity of the virus to alter its amino acid pattern over time in infected individuals.
Alternative medicine offers an abundant array of therapies for person with HCV. These non-toxic treatments include acupuncture and oriental herbs, homeopathic treatment, western botanical medicine, nutritional supplements and diet. Although a review of all these modalities is beyond the scope of this article, there is a common objective to them. That is, the goal is not to kill off the virus per se, but to stimulate the body’s capacity to protect itself through increased immune function, allowing it to self correct and throw off the viral burden.
The following is a sample of but a few of the better known remedies often used for HCV therapy:
One of the most commonly used treatments for reversing liver damage in general, and for HCV in particular is the botancial medicine Silybum marianum, commonly known as “milk thistle”.
The common milk thistle contains some of the most potent liver-protective substances known, collectively referred to as silymarin. Silybin is the most significant active ingredient in silymarin. In human studies, silymarin has demonstrated positive effects in treating liver diseases of various kinds, including chronic hepatitis, cirrhosis, fatty infiltration of the liver and inflammation of the bile duct.
Silymarin's effect in preventing liver destruction and enhancing liver function is due to its ability to inhibit free radicals. These compounds are produced by the transfer of oxygen to a polyunsaturated fatty acid, a reaction which requires the enzyme lipoxygenase. Silymarin inhibits this enzyme, limiting the formation of these damaging compounds.
One of the more interesting effects of silymarin is that it has also been shown to promote liver protein synthesis. The result is an increase in the production of new liver cells to replace damaged ones. Thus, milk thistle serves both repair and preventative functions for the liver.
Another highly regard remedy is Olive Leaf extract. This was originally discovered by a viral specialist who recognized its anti-viral properties. It took 26 years of research to overcome problems extracting the active ingredients and to develop a commercially suitable, potent broad-spectrum anti-infective agent.
Lentinula edodes (LEM) is an extract from the myce-lium of shiitake mushrooms. The well-known herbalist Christopher Hobbs studied and used LEM as a medicinal treatment. Its central ingredient is lentinan, a specific type of complex carbohydrate called a beta-glucan polysaccharide, known to have healing properties. It has the ability to induce the body to produce its own interferon, which may explain LEM's usefulness in treating hepatitis C.
In Japan many patents have been issued from 1972 to 1993 for products made from shiitake. These include treatments for asthma, hypertension, cancer, ulcers, acceleration of bone healing, immune regulation, antibiotics, a clotting mechanism and high cholesterol. Studies from this time period also include treatments that are anti-diabetic, anti-parasitic and anti-fungal, as well as a means of protecting the body from radiation. The HCV viral strain known as type 1B, found in Japan, is the most dangerous form of the virus, and LEM mushroom extract is at the core of the Japanese treatment.
The nutritional supplement phosphatidyl choline (PC) is a universal building block for cell membranes. Most liver metabolism occurs on the cell membranes (which occupy about 33,000 square meters in the human body). Over 20 years of clinical trials indicate that PC protects the liver against damage from alcoholism, pharmaceuticals, toxic pollution and viruses, most of which cause damage to cell membranes.
There are many homeopathic remedies that have been used successfully in treating various forms of hepatitis. A well chose remedy stimulates the detoxification in organ specifically and vitalizes the entire system in general. Remedies like Chelidonium majus and Lycopodium clavatum are well know for their action in this regard - but they are just two out a large group. The most effective remedies are the ones chosen for the specific symptoms experienced by the individual patient.
It is important to note that the various remedies listed above are some of the most commonly used natural medicines, yet it is often the case that none of them in and of themselves are necessarily a magic bullet. They are highly effective tools as part of an overall, integrated treatment strategy created by an experienced healthcare practitioner, which, in turn, is based on individual assessments of the patients health status.
Information in this article is based, in part, on “Overcoming Hepatitis C” by Joseph Odom, O.M.D., L.AC. and Steven Finkbine, L.AC.