Hepatitis C—Optimizing Health
By Maureen H. Rozenn, LAC, DAOM, PhD (c)
Hepatitis C has become an epidemic, both in Santa Cruz County and across the country. It is estimated the four million people are infected with hepatitis C in the United States, and100 million people are infected worldwide. Today, hepatitis C is the most common liver disease, even more common than alcoholic hepatitis. This virus is transmitted through blood-to-blood contact. The most potent routes of infection are sharing drug paraphernalia such as syringes, and through blood transfusions received prior to 1992. Hepatitis C is not transmitted through casual contact such as hugging, or sharing drinking glasses and eating utensils.
Hepatitis C is a virus that causes liver inflammation, and for approximately 85% of those who contract this virus, it will become a chronic illness. Fatigue is the most common symptom of hepatitis C. Other symptoms include muscle and joint pain, depression and irritability, digestive difficulties, impaired memory, headaches, and immune system dysfunction. In response to liver inflammation the body starts laying down scar tissue. This process is called fibrosis. Some people have many symptoms and very little fibrosis, while others progress to cirrhosis without any symptoms.
Asian medicine can reduce the symptoms of hepatitis C, regulate the immune system, and decrease liver inflammation. These goals are accomplished through a broad range of modalities including acupuncture and herbal therapy. The best-known tool of Asian medicine is acupuncture, which is used to manipulate energy flow. Very fine, hair like needles are inserted into points on the skin. Each point has specific actions such as eliminating headaches, regulating the digestion, and reducing depression. There is evidence that acupuncture may lower liver enzyme levels as well. Numerous studies have been conducted both in the U.S. and abroad showing the benefits of herbs. Research shows that Ganaderma, a mushroom that has been used for centuries to protect the liver from damage, can reduce liver enzyme levels. Schizandra is also used to lower enzyme levels, as well as lessen anxiety and improve memory. Ancient and newly devised herbal formulas are available to treat many of the manifestations of hepatitis C.
As in many chronic illnesses good nutrition can play a pivotal role in improving health. A diet with adequate protein is very important because the body uses protein to rebuild liver cells. The best sources of protein for people with hepatitis C are vegetable sources, rather than animal products. Alcohol consumption is correlated with a higher degree of liver inflammation and cirrhosis, therefore, limiting alcohol intake essential. People with hepatitis C should take a multivitamin that contains calcium, chromium, selenium, zinc and copper. It should not have vitamin A or iron. Both iron and vitamin A can be toxic to the liver in people with hepatitis C. It is best to avoid iron in both foods and supplements, and to take a multivitamin with mixed carotenoids or beta-carotene rather than vitamin A.
Hepatitis C is a complicated disease process whose presentation varies with every individual. A practitioner with experience in treating hepatitis C can create a balanced treatment plan to fit each individual patient's needs.