Hepatitis C Survivor  

Alternative Medicine.  Milk Thistle and Other Things That Will Squander Your Money.

Written By:  Teri Gottlieb

Buyer Beware!  

There are several snake oil salesmen out there who are claiming to have cured their own Hepatitis C with herbs, supplements and parking lot gravel. Okay, maybe not the parking lot gravel but it might as well be. What you need to remember is that there are two different types of Hepatitis C. Acute and Chronic. The acute infection will go away on its own within 6 months of infection. The chronic infection is the one that lasts.

These less than scrupulous folks who are wanting to sell you their products claiming to have cured their own HCV actually had an acute infection. It would have gone away no matter what they took... Even that parking lot gravel would have worked!

Because the current medical treatment for Hepatitis C can be brutal and doesn't work for everyone, people with the virus are always on the lookout for something that will help their situation and can become easy prey to these scams. To date, no complementary or alternative medicine treatments have proved helpful in preventing, treating, or easing the symptoms of a Hepatitis C infection.  

One herb that continues to attract both attention and controversy is milk thistle. A recent study that came out in July of 2012 has proven that milk thistle has little to no effect on Hepatitis C. There is some thought that a concentrated version of milk thistle given in an IV drip might be of some benefit but the milk thistle products that you buy in your local health food store just don't work. Dr. Michael Fried, who is the director of the University of North Carolina Liver Center conducted this study and has said "There's really no benefit to being treated with milk thistle." In the study that came out in 2012, researchers took 154 Hepatitis C patients who hadn't responded well to the Standard of Care treatment and randomly assigned them to take daily doses of milk thistle extract or a placebo. They took the milk thistle or the placebo for six months. A few patients, two in each group, showed signs of progress after the first six months. Dr. Fried stated "We didn't find any benefits whatsoever."  That study appears in the July 18 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.  

Many herbal supplements are safe, but they are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Milk thistle is not FDA approved. This means that the safety and purity of this herb has not been investigated. One of the most serious dangers associated with milk thistle is contamination. There have been cases in which herbal remedies and supplements like milk thistle have been contaminated with toxic metals or drugs. Because there is no regulation, you have no idea what you are getting. The last thing your liver needs when it is already compromised by Hepatitis C, is toxic metals. 

There is also a risk of drug interactions when you combine milk thistle with other medications. Milk thistle actually effects your liver in such a way that it slows down the enzyme activity and other drugs that you may be taking become more potent. For patients with HIV-AIDS and Hepatitis C this is especially dangerous. Your liver enzymes are responsible for breaking down the chemicals of everything we ingest, from food to medication. Because milk thistle slows this action down, more of your medication may wind up circulating thru your bloodstream than you had intended. This winds up making  your liver do more work than it needed to in the first place and could lead to an overdose of your regular medications.   

Medications that are known to have interactions with milk thistle are listed below:
  • Methadone
  • Antidepressants, including SSRI medications (including the herb St. John's Wort)
  • Antihistamines (Seldane and other brands)
  • Antifungal medications
  • Sedatives and sleeping pills (ambien​)
  • Cholesterol lowering drugs (statin medications)
  • Estrogen

Another supplement that is being sold to help Hepatitis C is Dandelion Root. This is usually sold in the form of a tea. Dandelion has been taken in the past to treat conditions like arthritis, some cancers, gout and diabetes.  Dandelion tends to have diuretic and laxative side effects.  It can also cause an upset stomach, lower your blood sugar and cause a skin rash. Dandelion is known to have some medicinal qualities but it does not have any effect on Hepatitis C specifically.  

There are people out there making a LOT of money from Hepatitis C patients. Patients who have tried treatment and were either unable to finish or it didn't work for them, patients who are unable to treat for various reasons and some that are just not willing to treat are all easy prey for these vultures. Please, don't let someone else get rich off of your illness. We always are looking to find something to help us. Sometimes that puts us in a vulnerable position.

There are currently some new treatments for Hepatitis C and more are coming. Hopefully we should see the new drugs in 2014 and 2015. In the meantime, eat healthy, avoid alcohol and stay hydrated. Your doctor will keep tabs on the situation with your liver. Don't give these charlatans any of your hard earned money.