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Hepatic - Four cases of Hepatitis C

by Stansbury, Jill

Medical Herbalism 01-31-95 6(4): 1, 7

Four patients with hepatitis C infections have been successfully treated with botanical therapies in my office over the last several years. Two of the four patients had already received their diagnosis, and sought my care after being dissatisfied with the conventional therapies offered. They were both experiencing fatigue and digestive disturbances, and one woman wished to build herself up to conceive a child and carry the pregnancy. Each of them had improved little since the time of their diagnoses and, in fact, the liver enzymes of one patient were continuing to climb at each check. Interferon injections (the standard allopathic treatment for chronic hepatitis C infection) had been proposed, but after learning of the long list of potential side effects, both patients declined.

The other two patients were diagnosed in my office after presenting with digestive complaints and vague malaise. Routine blood panels revealed elevated liver enzymes and follow-up hepatitis panels were positive for hepatitis C.

All four patients were put on milk thistle (Silybum marianum) preparations; the silymarin flavolignans have been found to help promote regeneration of hepatocytes and protect against hepatotoxicity. All patients were also prescribed an alterative tea, consisting of equal parts of Arctium lappa (burdock root), Taraxacum officinale (dandelion root), Berberis vulgaris (Oregon grape root), Glycyrrhiza glabra (Licorice root), Cinnamonium zeylanicum (cinnamon bark), and Feoniculum vulgare (fennel seed). They were instructed to decoct 1 tsp of this mixture per cup of water and consume 3 cups per day. The arctium, taraxacum, and berberis in this formula are all bitter alterative herbs which act as cholagogues, promoting the flow of bile from the liver and gallbladder. This action is desirable in chronic liver diseases because it stimulates liver function and supports the liver in its important job of metabolizing and processing fats and other nutrients, hormones, toxins, and innumerable biochemical substances for the body. It is worth mentioning that such cholagogues are not desirable in acute hepatitis or other severe inflammatory conditions of the liver and gallbladder. Stimulating an acutely inflamed liver would only exacerbate the problem. Since none of these patients were in the acute phase of their disease, but rather were experiencing low-grade symptoms due to chronic liver dysfunction, this formula was appropriate for them. Besides possessing cholagogue effects, arctium and taraxacum also contain a fructose-based oligosaccharide known as inulin. Inulin has recently been shown to have immune-stimulating properties. Besides balancing the bitter flavors of the alterative roots with a sweet taste, the glycyrrhiza in this formula has antiviral, anti-inflammatory, and hepatoprotective actions, all of value in viral-induced inflammatory conditions of the liver. The cinnamon and fennel also improve the flavor, as well as act as digestive aids for the gastrointestinal upset all patients were experiencing. Cinnamon is a mild antiviral as well and is also a warming herb useful to balance the cooling energies of the alteratives. Both the silymarin and the tea formula are to be used long term. Other therapies were offered to manage each patient’s specific case on an individual basis, but the tea and the milk thistle were considered to be the prime therapies. All patients were also counseled on how to avoid hepatotoxins, reduce the workload on the liver, and optimize diet and lifestyle.
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    179


    Medical Herbalism: Clinical Articles and Case Studies

All four patients experienced a subjective improvement in their symptoms within two weeks of beginning therapy. Follow-up liver function panels were performed at three month intervals and showed a gradual decline in the elevated values until returning to normal or hovering just above normal values was observed. When one patient ceased therapy for six months, the liver enzymes began to rise, and upon resuming, the values once again declined. All patients remain symptom-free at this time, and the woman who wished to conceive carried a normal pregnancy to term and delivered a healthy son.


The hepatitis C virus is a newly discovered virus, and viral hepatitis C is now recognized as a subset of the previous “non-A non-B” hepatitis. Hepatitis C infection may be a silent epidemic in the U.S.

The initial infection is usually mild in the acute stage, causing only vague abdominal discomfort and loss of appetite. Chronic cases are common however, and it is not unsual for chronic symptoms to emerge decades after the initial infection. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 150,000 Americans are infected each year with hepatitis C; from 8,000 to 10,000 die each year from consequences of the infection. Estimates are likely to be low rather than high. Chronic hepatitis C may progress to cirrhosis, and increases the risk of liver cancer, but it more often improves clinically after 2-3 years.

The most common cause of infection is blood transfusion, and hepatitis C is the most common form of post-transfusion hepatitis, accounting for 90% of cases 1990. Since that year, the blood supply has been screened for the virus, so the incidence is probably less now. Intravenous drug users are commonly infected, and a study in one city found 80% of such drug users infected. Blood transmission is not the only way for its spread, and Hepatitis C accounts for 15-40% of hepatitis cases. Health-care work that entails frequent contact with blood, and household or sexual contact with persons who have had hepatitis in the past have also been documented in some studies as risk factors for acquiring hepatitis C. The importance of person-to-person contact and sexual activity in the transmission of this disease have not been well defined. Diagnosis is through routine hepatitis panel bloodwork.

The only conventional treatment for Hepatitis C is with interferon, but only about half of patients respond. The treatment requires six months of injections three times a week, costs about $75 a week and has unpleasant side effects such as flu-like symptoms, fatigue, and irritability. Although liver functioning improves after interferon treatment, it is not known whether the treatment eradicates the virus.

Compiled from medical texts. Paul Bergner
Copyright 2001 Paul Bergner    180