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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”

 

Is Herbal Treatment for You?

Complementary and  Alternative Medicine Gaining Recognition

By: Merle Granek

Sept/Oct 1999 Volume 1, Number 1

 Is Herbal Treatment for You?

 Complementary and Alternative Medicine gaining recognition

 By Merle Granek

Complementary and alternative medicines (CAM), including botanicals or herbs, have been used throughout the ages and it is estimated today that eighty percent of the world’s population continues to use herbs—leaves, roots, berries and extracts—as their main source of medicine.

 Herbal medicine is defined as the use of whole plants or plant parts for the treatment of disease and overall good health. The use of herbal products in America has risen to sales estimated at more than $700 million annually.

In October of 1998, President Clinton signed the 1999 Omnibus appropriations bill establishing the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) formerly called the Office of Alternative Medicine. And Congress appropriated $50 million in the 1999 fiscal year to finance the new Center’s operations.

The purpose of NCCAM is to conduct research, research training, and disseminate health information and other programs with respect to identifying, investigating, and validating CAM treatments.

The benefits of some herbal treatments have not escaped the notice of people with chronic hepatitis C. While most people with hepatitis C have no early noticeable symptoms, some may experience “flu-like” symptoms, including, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea and vomiting, fever, weakness and mild abdominal pain.

A variety of CAM treatments and remedies have been found to offer patients some relief from these symptoms.

Western Herbal Medicine

Classified as a Western herbal medicine, milk thistle has been found to be one of the most effective herbs for the treatment of hepatitis C. It contains silymarin, a flavonoid that has been shown to aid in healing and rebuilding the liver. It can regenerate injured liver cells and help to reestablish normal liver function. Milk thistle can also aid in strengthening the liver cells’ antioxidant defense system.

It can be taken in capsule or alcohol-free extract form. The patient should take 420 milligrams of silymarin in 3 divided doses. After improvement a maintenance dosage of 280 milligrams daily is recommended. High quality milk thistle is rapidly absorbed and reaches maximum concentration in the blood within one hour and may be used for long-term treatment.

 

Dr. James F. Balch, in his book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, says that the following herbs have proven to be beneficial in treating the symptoms of hepatitis C: licorice helps control hepatitis, especially chronic hepatitis, and improves liver function in people with cirrhosis; black radish contains catechin, a flavonoid, which has been shown to decrease serum bilirubin levels in people with all types of acute viral hepatitis; and, red clover promotes liver cleansing.

Preparations of herbal teas are another age-old home remedy used to treat liver disease and help promote liver cleansing. Some good teas to try are dandelion, red clover (mentioned above), golden seal, licorice root, peppermint, spearmint, chamomile and green tea. Herbal teas are made by placing the prescribed amount of herbs (usually one or two teaspoons) in a cup or a teapot and then pour boiling water over the mixture. Cover and leave for 10-15 minutes, then strain and drink.

Aromatherapy

In Aromatherapy, the fragrance of essential oils found in some plants has a physical as well as an emotional effect on the patient by altering hormone production, brain chemistry stress levels and general metabolism. This has its most significant impact on the patient’s mood and emotions, and is experiencing renewed interest in the United States because of its soothing benefits to the over-stressed mind and body.

Aromatherapy is the use of essential oils from plants to enhance general health and vitality. There are a variety of essential oils from which to choose, depending on the patient’s needs. Someone who has difficulty sleeping may choose Chamomile, which is calming, or Neroli, which has a mildly sedative property and is recommended for insomnia.

The patient who would benefit from stimulation might select Rosemary for its mildly stimulating properties. It is also recommended for soothing aches and pains.

The benefit of aromatherapy is two-fold. First through the sense of smell as the vapors from aromatic oils are inhaled. The aromatic benefit of the oils is released through heat with a few drops added to a steaming hot bowl of water placed near enough for the patient to inhale the vapors. Or, several drops added to a warm bath include not only the benefits of the vapors, but the oils are absorbed through the skin.

The other benefit is through the sense of feel with the application of essential oils added to carrier oil and massaged into the body. With massage, the patient experiences not only therapeutic touch, but gains the added benefit of inhaling the vapors to further enhance his treatment.

Traditional Chinese Medicine

Offering yet another natural treatment option for the Hepatitis C Virus patient is Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). This option often includes a mixture of Chinese herbs, acupuncture, massage and the practice of Qi Gong (chee gung).

One Chinese herb that has shown promise in treating hepatitis is the bupleuri root also known as Chinese Thoroughwax. The primary benefit from the herb is found in the root’s steroid-like molecules and has been found to help in detoxifying the liver. It may also provide protection from cirrhosis and works as an anti-inflammatory.

Qi Gong, which literally means “energy work,” is among the most popular Chinese methods used to promote fitness. The exercises can help calm the liver through relaxation and tranquility.

One of the advantages of TCM is the theory of communication between the internal and external organs. Therefore, the condition of the liver may be reflected in a visible area of the body. For example, when the liver is sick, fragile nails may result. The sensory organs that are related to the liver are the eyes, which may display redness, dryness or vision impairment, signifying liver dysfunction.

The objective of TCM is to restore harmony to the body, mind and spirit; stressing that it is possible to increase energy levels, enhance the body’s immunity and possibly longevity.

Before starting CAM therapies, hepatitis C patients especially should take into account a powerful observation made by Dr. MaryAnn O’Hara, a Robert Woods Johnson clinical scholar at the University of Washington, “Herbs are like other drugs, but they’re often more diluted and less purified. They’re a complex mix of chemicals. Any chemical you take that has a physiologic effect (on body function) is a drug. It’s a misunderstanding to think herbs are an alternative to drugs—rather they’re an alternative form of drug.”

 

With new studies of CAM treatments on the horizon, the chronically ill patient may have safer alternative therapies available in the future. However, for now, hepatitis patients must proceed with caution when considering the use of herbal treatments.

While CAM offers many benefits for patients with chronic hepatitis, there may be hazards as well. Before starting any new treatment, consult your physician for possible interactions with current prescriptions.

Some health insurance plans may cover certain CAM therapies, so ask your physician if he can refer you to a practitioner. Or, you can refer to Dr. Andrew Weil’s Web site at: www.drweil.com for a list of practitioners.

Once you’ve located a practitioner, ask if he has treated other patients who have been diagnosed with hepatitis C. Having treated patients with hepatitis A or B is not necessarily a good indicator that the herbalist is qualified to treat hepatitis C. To avoid possible interactions, advise the herbalist of any prescription or over-the-counter medicines you are taking.

Inquire about all costs associated with the treatment plan prescribed, the duration of the treatments, and, what the expected outcome of the treatments is. If you develop any adverse side effects, discontinue the treatment and contact your physician and practitioner immediately.

While some hepatitis patients experience success with herbal treatments, they may not work for everyone. And, as with any chronic illness, your physician offers the primary means to monitor the progress of your disease and should be kept informed of any therapies you are considering.

By communicating to your doctor your decision to use alternative treatments, he will be better able to help ensure that you obtain the best treatment for a healthier liver.

Herbal Therapies

Burdock – to cleanse the liver and bloodstream.

Chamomile – to provide anti-inflammatory support.

Cleavers – to stimulate the lymphatic system and can be used as a general detoxifying agent.

Dandelion Root – a bitter herb used to detoxify the liver and kidney.

Echinacea – to stimulate the immune system and encourage the natural production of interferon.

Garlic – to stimulate immunity and act as a blood-detoxifying agent. This result is achieved from the allicin, a sulpher-containing compound found in garlic.

Golden Seal – to assist in the healing of the damaged or inflamed membrane in the gastrointestinal tract.

Marigold – to help relieve gall bladder and indigestion problems.

St. John’s Wort – serves as an antiviral and antidepressant agent, helps to stimulate bile flow, and, reduces fluid retention.

Herbs to Avoid

The following herbs have been reported to cause liver-related complications, including acute hepatitis, cirrhosis and liver failure, and should be voided. This is not a comprehensive list.

 Comfrey (allantoin)

Chaparral

Germander

Fin Bu Huan

Nutmeg

Mistletoe

Pennyroyal

Ragwort

Sassafras

Senna

Tansy

Valerian