Pulse of Oriental Medicine: Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks
Alternative Medicine That Works for Regular Folks

Updated March 15, 2003

Hepatitis C and Chinese Medicine
by Douglas Eisenstark, L.Ac.

You, one of your friends or family may have been diagnosed with Hepatitis (B or C). This may or may not have been a surprise but now you have some challenges and decisions ahead of you.

Chinese Medicine and Hepatitis

Traditional Chinese Medicine has been considering the effects of liver damage for many years. In the 1980s China developed its own hepatitis B epidemic. The doctors there have for the last 20 years been refining Chinese herbal medicine to lessen the damage of both hepatitis B and C. They have found that Chinese herb formulas can help to protect the liver against long-term damage of the hepatitis virus. Chinese formulas can be modified to work with patients with or without interferon.

Chinese Medicine recognizes a number of pattern and symptoms, which form a diagnosis. Although we do not recognize hepatitis per se, we do see "pathogens" and "toxicity". I often describe people as being like trees, which in childhood generally grow straight up. Life and the environment make the tree bend to the left or right. Our purpose in the medicine is to get that tree growing straight again.

Our herbs are like foods. Although powerful they are so chemically complex that the body has a chance to adapt to their constituents. Our herbs target parts of the body in very specific ways.

Western Medicine focuses on the virus; all their efforts are to get rid it. This works about 50 percent of the time but at great financial and physical cost to the patient. Interferon treatment often results in thyroid problems. Recent studies show that Chinese Medicine has a 40% success rate (of remission). If Western treatments are combined with Chinese Medicine to boost the immune system, the effects are enhanced.

Why take Chinese Herbs for chronic hepatitis?

Although I am extremely cautious about making a guarantee of getting rid of the virus, I am certain that Chinese Herbs can help at all other levels. They can boost immunity in ways that Western Medicine cannot. We can lessen the seriousness of liver fibrosis and cirrhosis. We can alleviate digestive problems and fatigue.

Taking Chinese herbs for HCV has three objectives.

  1. Relieve symptoms likes nausea and fatigue.
  2. Foster an environment that lessens the chances of complications.
  3. Possibly eliminate the virus.

What do you mean in point number two above?

Chinese herbs can help to "soften the liver," which allows blood to flow smoothly. Our herbs can also protect the liver by boosting the immune system.

Can I take Milk Thistle while on Chinese Herbs?

Yes, yes, yes, please do. Milk thistle is great at will not interfere with Chinese herbs.

Can I take Chinese Herbs with Interferon?

Yes, but only with the close monitoring of a qualified practitioner. And preferably with the cooperation of your Western doctor although finding one who will be will to do this, to say the least, will be problematic.

Editor's Note: Reports have come out of Japan that the combination of the Chinese herb formula Xiao Chai Hu Tang (Minor Bupleurum) and interferon therapy have resulted in liver failure and death. At this time, we advise that you avoid combining interferon with that formula, or any that contains chai hu (bupleurum).

Can Chinese Herbs cure Hepatitis C?

I've seen studies from China that report a 40% remission rate. This is comparable to the interferon remission rate. What we don't know is if the 60% who didn't respond to the interferon are the same people who won't respond to Chinese herbs.

Are Chinese herbs safe?

Yes, if they are prescribed by a qualified practitioner of Chinese Medicine. Many reports of problems come from MD's or others with little knowledge of the Chinese medical theory. I have studied in hospitals in China where thousands of people get herbs every day. The adverse event rate is much lower than with drugs or surgery.

Our herbs are better seen as foods with very specific purposes. Because they are whole "foods" they tend to be tolerated and moderated better in the body. One exception is Chai Hu/Buplereum, which is toxic when used with Interferon therapies. But herbs are powerful and getting the wrong prescription can cause problems but that are probably less dangerous than Western medicines which tend to be specific molecular constituents.

Many people including doctors will say that "herbs are not safe" based on a single report. This is like saying that all drugs are dangerous because people (actually many people) have died while taking them.

No, just because it is "natural" doesn't mean it's 100 percent safe and Chinese Medicine can do damage, but it is undoubtedly much more safe.

How do I find a qualified practitioner of Chinese Herbal Medicine?

Chinese Medicine is a true art and you should work with someone you feel comfortable with. My own prejudice is for those who follow Traditional Chinese Medicine, a label given to those who practice what is taught in China and other parts of Asia.

Assess what type of herbal skills and background your doctor has. Be aware of people who have just one pill or herb for HCV. This is a complex disease and there is no miracle herb or formula which can be bought at your local health food store.

Find acupuncturists and herbalists here.

How will I know if the herbs are working?

You will take these herbs for months to see any change in liver enzymes or viral load if any at all. You might be taking these herbs for years. Hepatitis C does not go away on its own (usually). You may or may not see any change in these laboratory tests.

Many people have the question, "If the lab tests don't change how will I know I'm getting better?" The truth is I can only answer, "You won't. You will have to trust that these herbs will help you." You can look for research on the Web. And I think along with Milk Thistle, using Chinese Herbs has the most proven record of all the so-called alternative therapies out there.

How much will it cost?

Any formula for Hepatitis will be relatively expensive... around $100 a month. There is no way around this cost. This is a substantial amount of herbs (and money) but I am afraid at any less a dosage you will be wasting your money and losing any health benefits. Taking too little may not do you any good. You may have to take these for several months if not years. Talk to a good practitioner before you shell out the money.

I saw some herb pills advertised on the internet. Can I take these?

First you must realize that if you have physical symptoms, such as a dark face or bleeding disorder you should be seen by both a Chinese medicine practitioner and a Western Medical Doctor. These are very serious conditions - going to the local health food store or buying herbs over the internet is not really health care.



All information herein provided is for educational use only and not meant to substitute for the advice of appropriate local experts and authorities.
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