Herbal Treatments for Hepatitis / Herbal Antivirus Formula for HBV & HCV; Our Professional Natural Cure
Hepatitis refers to inflammation of the liver, and is usually but not always the result of a virus. Most of the publicity we hear these days concerns the spread of Hepatitis C. In fact hepatitis can be caused by alcohol and chemicals as well as many different viruses. Most of the cases of viral hepatitis in Australia are classified as types A, B or C. Types A and B were discovered over 20 years ago but type C (HVC) was discovered as recently as 1988. HVC is now considered to be the most prevalent type in Australia. Over 1500 cases have been notified in the Hunter Valley alone, where it is 10 times more prevalent than the HIV virus. There are at least 6 known strains of HVC and a mixture of strains may occur in an infected person.
While it is known that HVC is spread by blood, through such agents as hypodermic needles, blood transfusions (before 1990) and through cuts and scratches, almost half infected patients don’t know the source of the infection. The disease is further complicated since carriers can take up to 20 years before aquiring liver damage, and many cases remain symptomless. In fact cases of clinically acute hepatitis are relatively rare. The long duration between infection and illness represents an opportunity for the individual to seek alternative or complementary treatments, and to adopt lifestyle and dietary changes which will enhance liver performance and overall health status.
Whatever the cause of the hepatitis its treatment will follow similar principles, whichever system of medicine is used. In many Asian countries there have been treatments available within their traditional healing systems for centuries. The Chinese (T.C.M.) and Indian (Ayurvedic) pharmacopoeias contain numerous references to specific medicines and formulas, usually used in conjunction with other techniques such as acupuncture and dietary therapy. Presently a clinical trial is underway using a Chinese herbal formula with HVC patients at the John Hunter Hospital, Newcastle, under its director of gastroenterology Professor Bob Batey. The results are eagerly awaited. When it comes to western medicine there is very little on offer for hepatitis sufferers, apart from blood tests and biopsies. The only treatment available is interferon, which is very expensive (up to $5000 for a course), ineffective in many cases, and has possible side effects including headaches, depression and flu-like symptoms.
This article reviews the treatment of hepatitis using western, Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs, and offers some dietary advice and sources of support and information about this much feared and misunderstood condition.
The liver is clearly one of the largest and most important organs in our bodies, and it is not suprising therefore that inflammation of the organ can lead to numerous unpleasant symptoms and loss of vitality. In the long term it can cause liver cirrhosis and death. However most carriers of the disease will experience less severe symptoms including pain around the liver, nausea, anorexia and fatigue. Digestion of fats is impaired and alcohol cannot be tolerated. The first indication is often jaundiced skin and dark urine- these signs can be confirmed by a blood test that measures levels of the enzyme ALT (alanine aminotransferase) which are elevated in acute hepatitis, but are often normal in chronic cases. Blood tests also reveal the presence of antibodies to specific viruses. Any person suspecting they may have hepatitis should immediately seek a medical diagnosis- the earlier the detection of the disease the more successful subsequent treatment is likely to be.
The presence of blood abnormalities, ie. raised liver enzymes and presence of viral anti-bodies, point to two ways in which herbal treatments can be of assistance. Firstly there are a number of herbal remedies which protect liver cells from damage by poisons and viruses, and there are ample published reports of animal studies and clinical trials which have demonstrated an ability of a herb to lower levels of liver enzymes (including ALT) in affected individuals. Some of these studies are listed in the bibliography. A medicine with the ability to protect liver cells in this way is referred to as a hepatoprotective. In a recent article in the Australian Journal of Medical Herbalism (email: ajmh.hunterlink.net.au) I identified 26 common herbs for which hepatoprotective properties have been demonstrated in controlled studies.
The second means by which herbal remedies can be of help is in supporting the immune systems efforts to fight off the virus. In some cases (eg. Phyllanthus) specific antiviral properties have been demonstrated. In other cases (eg. Echinacea) the action is non-specific and involves a boost to the whole immune system.
It must be pointed out that herbal treatments are not designed for acute stages of hepatitis. In this case bed rest and low fat diet, along with gentle herbal diaphoretics such as elderflowers (Sambucus nigra) and catnip (Nepeta cataria) are the limit of treatment recommended. The more widespread and longer lasting chronic stages of hepatitis lend themselves to treatments with herbal remedies and other natural therapies. Herbalists believe strongly in the need for bitter compounds as foods and medicines in order to stimulate production of gastric juices and bile from the liver. Herbs which stimulate bile flow are known as choleretics, while those that stimulate excretion of bile from the gall bladder are known as cholagogues. Many herbs have both properties and these are extremely useful in correcting digestive disorders in general, and for helping detoxify the liver in particular. Herbs with these properties include gentian (Gentiana lutea), wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) and horehound (Marrubium vulgare). Traditional compounds such as the well-known Swedish Bitters have similar effects.
I have found the use of herbal decoctions to be of great assistance in hepatitis cases. Although less concentrated than fluid extracts and tinctures they have the advantage of being free of alcoholic solvents, an important consideration in any liver disorder. Some people will object to the taste, however the bitterness is an important aspect of the treatment as noted above. Ingestion of herbal tablets and capsules does not give this effect.
There is no doubting the importance of low fat diets for hepatitis sufferers. One of the main roles of bile (which the liver manufactures) is to break down fats so the body can absorb them, as well as to convert fat soluable toxins and wastes into water soluable compounds the body can eliminate. These functions are severely impaired when the liver is inflammed so that avoidance of fatty foods is a way of resting the liver. Foods to be avoided or taken in moderation are full fat dairy protects, fried foods, red meats and vegetable oils. A dessertspoon of olive oil on a daily basis can be of benefit so long as it is well tolerated. Its digestibility is assisted by combining with lemon juice. Protein intake on the other hand is necessary to assist the liver in the process of cell regeneration. White meats (fish and chicken) are preferred to red meats for their lower fat content, while vegetable proteins are best taken in combinations of pulses (beans, peas, lentils, tofu) with wholgrains such as rice, wheat and barley.
Just as bitter herbs are prescribed to correct liver sluggishness, so are bitter foods added to the diet to improve digestive function. Wild greens such as dandelion, plantain and dock leaves can be added to meals and sandwiches, or cultivated greens such as chicory and endive. In traditional Asian systems of healing there is also emphasis placed on balancing the five tastes- sweet, salty, sour, bitter and pungent (hot). It is unwise to have an excess or deficiency of these flavours in the diet. There are also several foods and spices which are known to have hepatoprotective properties. These include the globe artichoke which can be easily cultivated, both for their leaves which are used in medicines, and their edible and delicious hearts. Spices containing hepatoprotective compounds are turmeric, garlic and black pepper.