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Tuesday, November 18, 2014
Natural Healing Alternatives for Hepatitis C
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FACTS ABOUT HEPATITIS C
Some 3.2 million Americans have hepatitis C, and about 17,000 more are infected each year. Hepatitis C is the most common infection in the U.S. that is spread through blood. Hepatitis B is also commonly spread through blood. Hepatitis A is usually spread through food or water. All three forms are caused by viruses.
"Hepatitis" means inflammation of the liver. In addition to a virus, hepatitis can also result from overuse of drugs or alcohol, illnesses, medications, or even an immune disorder.
The liver's jobs are to clean your blood, help digest fats, and store energy. A liver that's swollen and damaged by hepatitis C slowly stops working as it should.
Hepatitis C can stay active in your body and slowly damage the liver over time. This is called chronic hepatitis C. You may develop cirrhosis, a condition in which most of the liver has been destroyed and has become scar tissue.
Hepatitis C usually doesn't cause any symptoms. If it isn't diagnosed, it can take as long as 30 years for serious signs of liver damage to develop.
Some people can have symptoms such as nausea or vomiting. But because these symptoms can be signs of so many other things, it's best to ask your doctor to test you. If you have hepatitis C, you can spread the virus even if you aren't having symptoms.
Baby boomers -- people born from 1945 to 1965 -- have the highest rates of hepatitis C. It may be that they became infected in the '70s and '80s when hepatitis C rates were high and blood wasn't screened as well as it is now.
The CDC says all boomers should be tested, along with anyone who ever used illegal drugs, had blood transfusions before 1992, or has HIV or liver disease symptoms. If you think you've been exposed to hepatitis C, talk to your doctor about getting tested.
It isn't easy to get infected with hepatitis C through sex, but it's still possible. If you have multiple partners or if you or your partner has hepatitis C, it's a good idea to use a latex condom.
You're more likely to get hepatitis C by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Health care workers sometimes get it from needle injuries.
Your chances of having problems at a licensed, commercial facility are slim. But tattoos or piercings done with nonsterile instruments can spread hepatitis C.
If you get a tattoo or piercing, look for a facility that works with all single-use items like gloves, needles, and ink pots. The shop should properly dispose of all items that have touched blood, use a disinfecting solution to clean work areas, and sterilize reusable tools.
There are vaccines for hepatitis A and B, but there isn't one for hepatitis C. To keep from getting infected, avoid contact with other people's blood. Don't share personal items like razors and toothbrushes, especially with someone who has hepatitis C.
Hepatitis C cannot be spread by hugging, kissing, coughing, sneezing, or breastfeeding. Unlike hepatitis A, you can’t get hepatitis C from food or water.
A few people's bodies will clear the virus without any treatment, but 75% or more won't. If you have hepatitis C, it often lasts your whole life. The sooner your hepatitis is diagnosed and you can begin treatment, the better your chance to prevent more liver damage.
Medications called antivirals are used to treat hepatitis C. Your doctor will choose treatment based on how healthy your liver is and other conditions you might have. You'll be vaccinated for hepatitis B and tested for HIV.
If you have hepatitis C, ask your doctor before taking any prescription or over-the-counter medicines, supplements, or vitamins. And don't drink alcohol, because it can speed up liver damage.
Even after successful treatment, you can still be infected again with hepatitis C. The chance is lower, but it's still there.
Alternative treatments for Hepatitis C range from herbal remedies such as milk thistle, licorice root, ginseng, and thymus extract, to therapies like massage, chiropractic care, and relaxation techniques. Up to 40% of people with hepatitis C who have failed conventional treatment say they have tried other therapies, and many report less fatigue, an immune system boost, and better gastrointestinal function as a result.
Here are some of the most popular hepatitis C complementary and alternative treatments, and what the research has to say about them:
Milk thistle (Silybum marianum) is the most popular herbal remedy for hepatitis C and among the best studied. Milk thistle is thought to both reduce liver inflammation and have an antiviral effect on the hepatitis C infection. A very small study presented at the 2008 European Association for the Study of the Liver conference suggested that milk thistle might decrease levels of the hepatitis C virus in patients who didn't respond to standard medical treatment. However, a previous larger review that looked at several studies concluded that milk thistle does little to reduce the complications of liver disease or improve the results of liver function tests. Though the evidence on milk thistle is so far inconclusive, the herb appears to be very safe with few side effects reported.
Licorice root (Glycyrrhiza glabra) uses the active component found in the dried root of the licorice plant. Some studies indicate that it might reduce some of the complications of hepatitis C (including liver cancer) and improve liver function. Licorice root is either taken on its own or combined with other herbs. In one study, patients who took a combination of licorice root, milk thistle, and several other herbs had improved measures of liver enzymes (a marker of liver damage and inflammation) and tests of liver function. Licorice root should be used carefully because it can have significant side effects, including high blood pressure, salt and water retention, and potassium loss. It also can have potentially dangerous interactions with medications such as diuretics, certain heart medications, and corticosteroids.
Thymus extract comes from the thymus gland of cows. Because the thymus helps regulate immune function, it has been speculated that its extract might boost the immune system in hepatitis C patients, but too few studies have been done to confirm this theory. A small study of Complete Thymic Formula, a dietary supplement containing thymus extract, as well as vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, found that this supplement did not benefit hepatitis C patients who had failed conventional treatment. Although this study noted only one side effect (a drop in blood platelets), there is concern that thymus extract might be prone to contamination because it comes from animals. People with immune problems (such as HIV/AIDS) should use caution when taking thymus extract.
Ginseng has been used to boost the immune system, and there is some evidence that it might help people with other types of liver conditions. However, it hasn't been studied well enough in people with hepatitis C to show any benefit. And because ginseng can decrease blood sugar and increase risk for bleeding, it should be used very carefully.
Schisandra is a plant that has been used for centuries as part of traditional Japanese medicine. In one small study, a Japanese herbal medicine called TJ-108 containing schisandra fruit had an antiviral effect on hepatitis C. However, the researchers aren't sure whether the schisandra or other ingredients in the herbal remedy were responsible for this effect.
St. John's wort has gained popularity for treating mild to moderate depression. Some patients with hepatitis C take the herbal remedy to counter the side effects of conventional treatment, but there is no evidence that it works.
Lactoferrin is a protein found in milk, as well as in the tears and saliva. A few small studies have found that when it is taken as part of a dietary supplement, lactoferrin may lower levels of the hepatitis C virus in the blood and improve liver function. It may be useful when taken together with standard medication, but this remains to be seen in future trials.
Other hepatitis C treatments include massage, acupuncture, and relaxation therapy. Although none of these treatments has been shown in scientific studies to work, there is anecdotal evidence that they may help relieve hepatitis C pain and ease some of the side effects of standard treatment.