What about Complementary Therapies?

Some people seek out complementary or alternative ways to treat their Hepatitis C.  Complementary and alternative medicine, known as CAM, includes a variety of interventions.   Some common complementary therapies include the following:

Relaxation techniques, such as meditation and visualization

  • These focus on how a person’s mind and imagination can promote overall health and well-being.

Physical techniques, such as massage, yoga, and tai chi

  • These focus on using a person’s body and senses to promote healing and well-being.

Herbal medicine

  • These are substances that come from plants. They can be taken from all parts of a plant, including the leaves, roots, flowers and berries.

These therapies, which are based on different traditions and disciplines, are generally considered to be outside the realm of conventional Western medicine.  When used with conventional medicine, they are referred to as “complementary.”  When used instead of conventional medicine, they are considered “alternative.”

Generally, physical and relaxation therapies are safe.  However, some complementary medicines (like herbs, mega-vitamins, and other dietary supplements) can be dangerous, particularly for people who have liver disease.

Many people use complementary medicines because they believe that it’s “natural” and therefore healthy and harmless.  But natural does not equal healthy or safe.  Poison ivy is natural, but it’s certainly not harmless.

Unlike conventional medical treatments – which are tested and regulated by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) – most complementary therapies have undergone very little, if any, scientific study.  And since herbal medicines are not subject to the same regulations as prescription medicines, the amount of medication in a pill or other quantity of herbal medicine can vary in potency by five, ten or one hundred fold from one brand to another and there’s no way of you knowing what that factor is.

So while some products may be safe others may actually pose significant risks – for example, by producing serious side effects or interacting badly with other medications you’re taking.

Fortunately, a greater effort is now being made to find ways to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of various types of CAM through the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine ((NCCAM), a center of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

According to the NCCAM, a review of the scientific evidence on CAM and Hepatitis C found the following:

  • No CAM treatment has yet been proven effective for treating Hepatitis C or its complications.
  • A 2003 analysis of results from 13 clinical trials testing various herbs on Hepatitis C concluded that there is not enough evidence to support using herbs to treat the disease.

The following section summarizes what is known about the safety and effectiveness of some of the herbs that people with Hepatitis C use:

Milk Thistle

  • In the United States, an herb called milk thistle (scientific name Silymarin marianum) is the most popular CAM product taken by people with liver disease.  While lab studies suggest that it may protect the liver in some ways, the evidence for or against milk thistle for Hepatitis C is unreliable due to poor scientific methods.  More high-quality research on milk thistle and Hepatitis C is needed before a recommendation can be made.

Licorice Root

  • People with chronic liver disease sometimes use licorice root or its extract (glycyrrhizin).  Some studies done outside the U. S. have looked at glycyrrhizin administered intravenously for Hepatitis C.  Preliminary evidence from these studies suggests that it may have beneficial effects against Hepatitis C.  However, additional research is needed before reaching any conclusions.


  • Ginseng has shown some beneficial effects on the liver in laboratory studies, but has not yet shown effects in people.