Hepatitis and Liver Health


by Susan A.Smith

The Chinese call it the House of the Soul. In fact, the liver is the central processing unit of our bodies. It performs over 500 known metabolic functions. Our liver processes and stores excess carbohydrates, fat, protein, vitamins and minerals. It manufactures blood clotting chemicals and bile salts necessary for digestion as well as glycogen needed by our brains and muscles. The liver balances hormones and breaks down the toxic substances that we eat, drink and breathe.

Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver. The hepatitis alphabet now goes from A to G, but it is the Hepatitis C virus (HCV) that is receiving headline attention. As Stephen Buhner says in his book, Herbs for Hepatitis C and the Liver,

It is silent, hidden, without symptoms for years, found by accident.
Five hundred million people on Earth have it.

This compares to 33,000,000 believed to carry the HIV virus.
The Hep C virus is of the tiniest known viruses. The incubation period may be a long as 50 years. Unlike its more stable cousins, HCV is an RNA based virus, meaning no single viral strand contains a complete DNA sequence. When it reproduces, it generates copies each slightly different from the original. This unpredictable genetic variation makes it nearly impossible to develop a vaccine.

Laboratory tests for HCV were not available until 1989, so most people being diagnosed today have had the disease for many years. HCV symptoms are those of middle-age -- low energy, PMS, irregular menses, hot flashes, frequent urination, chest pains, high cholesterol, low libido, insomnia, joint pain, depression, anxiety, headache, weight gain or loss, poor digestion, back pain, short-term memory failure, allergies, frequent colds, edema or bloating, itchy skin, eczema, intolerance to alcohol, fats, coffee. Untreated Hepatitis C can progress to fibrosis, cirrhosis, and liver failure.

Conventional treatment for HCV uses interferon based drugs alone or in combination with other antiviral drugs. (Actually, our immune system produces interferon to combat viruses in our bodies). Treatment is expensive and usually has severe side effects. Depending on the genotype of the HCV virus and degree of liver damage, interferon may not be indicated. Additionally, only about 50% respond positively, and in cases of those who do, the virus returns.

Have you noticed the ubiquitous the disclaimer at the beginning of self-help books: nothing in this book is intended to replace your doctor and his or her advice. Then we are told to discuss any nutritional and/or herbal program with someone whose medical school did not offer classes in these subjects? Our bodies are not made of nothing, but of what we put in it. With increasing medical specialization and distancing from the healing gifts of the earth, it is so very important to participate in our own wellness, consulting our inner guidance as well as knowledgeable and trained healers. Food and herbs: seeds, roots, berries, fruit, leaves, stems, and flowers to fungi are not alternative, but complementary.

The liver responds immediately to stress reduction, good nutrition (including nutritional supplements such as the antioxidant alpha lipoic acid and the minerals selenium and zinc) and herbal support. Botanical sources that support the liver are beets, artichokes, dandelion, milk thistle seed and a dozen others. Major herbs that support and enhance immune function (where the HCV virus hibernates prior to invading liver cells) include astragalus, ashwaganda, licorice, Siberian ginseng, schizandra berry and more.

The good news is that the liver is very forgiving. Fully two thirds of it can be removed and it will regenerate itself. Hepatitis C takes a long time to develop and the damage it causes is gradual. It takes work to reverse it including lifestyle changes and a comprehensive herbal and nutritional protocol, but increasing evidence shows success is fully possible.

You have probably seen milk thistle by the side of the road. Just another obnoxious weed. The leaves look like someone poured milk over them. The seeds of milk thistle have been used for over 2,000 years. Extensive research on the herb began circa 1960 and firmly supports the use of milk thistle in the treatment of liver disease.

Actions: liver regenerator, liver tonifying, anti-inflammatory for both liver and spleen, immune system stimulant. Eating milk thistle protects the liver against damage from pharmaceutical drugs (from steroids to Tylenol), alcohol, environmental toxins, Big Macs and chocolate eclairs. Besides stimulating the liver after a long winter, milk thistle is also used for serious problems such as hepatitis, cirrhosis and mushroom poisoning. You can eat the leaves in the spring after cutting off the vicious spines. The roots can be roasted or boiled. The seeds can be ground and stirred into water and drunk, or roasted before grinding and sprinkled over oatmeal. Or toast the seeds in a hot frying pan, use salt or tamari or soy sauce and eat as a snack. Have at much as you like. There are no contraindications or side effects.

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