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Hepatitis C: To "Treat " or Not to "Treat "?

By John M. Burgstiner
Founder/President of Logos Nutritionals, LLC

It is estimated that three to four million Americans are infected with hepatitis C (HCV), a blood borne virus that attacks the liver of its host, and many of them are not even aware of it. The U.S. spent nearly six billion dollars in 1997 for the treatment of HCV, and the costs have continued to skyrocket.  The mainstream treatments that are available are expensive, only marginally effective and loaded with nasty side effects.  The horizon is littered with bewildered hep C patients, newly diagnosed - often taken from blissful ignorance (asymptomatic) to shock and horror in a moment's notice - who are asking the dreaded question, should I undergo "The Treatment" ?

 

According to the many natural practitioners who oppose "treatment" of HCV with harsh and expensive drugs, it is technically not the chemical interferons that do the acute damage; it is the body's massive inflammatory response to the drugs.  The long term damage may be related to the undermining of a patient's baseline immunity, which makes them more susceptible to opportunistic infections and often to flare ups of the virus that are worse the second time around. 

 

Often the first test recommended to a hepatitis C patient is a liver biopsy.  Although a liver biopsy is certainly the most definitive way to confirm the patient's genotype and determine the level of deterioration of liver tissue, it is a perilous and invasive procedure that further traumatizes and inflames the liver.

 

Natural practitioners prefer to monitor blood studies, particularly liver transaminase enzyme levels, which are generally elevated when significant liver tissue damage is taking place.  Physicians also typically monitor the level of viral replication that is taking place in the blood, commonly referred to as the viral load and measured by a test called a PCR - RNA.  These and other markers can help reveal how well a patient is dealing with the virus without inflicting further harm or adding stress to an already challenged organ.

 

The natural approach to treating HCV - or any other chronic illness for that matter - involves strengthening and balancing the immune system, internal cleansing of the body, reducing systemic inflammation and the promotion of healthy metabolic pathways.  A foundational, comprehensive nutritional support protocol is needed to support the body's ability to absorb and assimilate nutrients and eliminate toxins and wastes. 

 

Natural treatment of hepatitis C typically addresses stress management, regular exercise and a healthy diet consisting chiefly of the foods that were given through the wisdom of our Creator to sustain us. Dietary protein is often limited to reduce stress on the liver, although some protein is needed for liver tissue regeneration. Any underlying nutritional deficits are identified and treated, as are any secondary infections which can further burden and compromise the immune system.  At its best, natural treatment also takes into consideration that being made in the triune image of God, we must address the trinity of our nature (mind, body and spirit) if we wish to be made whole.

 

There are numerous natural medicines and techniques that are employed in treating viral infections like hep C, from herbal antivirals such as cat's claw to hydrogen peroxide to intravenous vitamin C or photoluminescence therapy.  In addition to antiviral strategies to keep the viral load down, various herbs and nutrients are given to help protect the liver and encourage regeneration of liver tissue. Milk thistle, dandelion, turmeric, schizandra, artichoke and blupeurum have all been shown to have powerful liver protective properties. Whatever the threat, however, there is no more fundamental a way to support and restore the immune system than to support the master gland of immunity, the thymus gland.

 

Persons diagnosed with hepatitis of any kind should always be screened for iron overload to rule out hemochromatosis, a very common genetic disorder that prevents elimination of dietary iron.  The combination of viral hepatitis and hemochromatosis is extremely dangerous because the virus thrives in an iron rich environment and high iron levels are toxic to the liver in the first place.  Diagnosis of the genetic disorder is confirmed by the presence of both elevated serum iron levels and a high transferrin saturation percentage. Natural treatment of iron overload involves periodic phlebotomies (therapeutic blood-letting), often along with the administration of inositol hexaphosphate (IP6), a commercially available oral iron binding agent.

 

A diagnosis of infection with hepatitis C is not a death sentence.  It is, however, a wake up call to begin to treat one's temple with care and respect, and to seek to understand how our daily choices impact our quality of life.  The ancient Hebrew prophet Hosea lamented that "my people perish for lack of knowledge." (Hosea 4:6)   In today's information age, knowledge is more accessible than ever before, but one needs considerable discernment to separate the wheat from the chaff. 

 

As natural health seekers, we need to ask for and receive wisdom and understanding from God as to how the enemy attempts to steal away our health and vitality, for there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death (Proverbs 14:12). Recognizing that you are a target of lies and a prisoner of your habits and choices is the first step towards transforming your health. 


The apostle Paul urged us to "not be conformed to the patterns of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds" (Romans 12:2).  That means much more than don't drink, smoke and cuss.  We must learn to "present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). That means abstaining from fast, fried or processed foods, sodas, refined sugar and flour, chemical sweeteners and preservatives, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and most certainly with an HCV challenged liver, alcohol. It means limiting protein intake and exposure to chemical or emotional toxicity, hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. 

 

We must remember that virtually everything that enters our body, whether by mouth, nose, lungs, or skin must be processed by the liver. Other than the brain, it is far and away the most critical of all internal organs in terms of systems management. The liver is intimately involved in the metabolism of fat, sugar, protein and hormones. Foods, toxins, even our thoughts have a profound effect on the liver, so we must guard our liver well in our daily choices... all the more so if we are dealing with a chronic illness like hepatitis C.