The Truth About Hep C Supplements

Should you turn to supplements if you can’t afford hep C meds?

The Truth About Hep C Supplements

If you have hepatitis C, taking supplements may seem like an inexpensive and easy way to fight the illness—especially if you’ve been denied medications. But just because supplements are easy to get, doesn’t mean they’re necessarily safe, healthy or effective in treating the disease.

Here’s what you need to know about the science behind five of the most popular supplements for hepatitis C.

Milk thistle. This plant has been used as a traditional remedy to treat liver disease for thousands of years, and it’s the most popular supplement for hepatitis in America. Proponents claim that silymarin, the active component of milk thistle, can protect liver cells from damage and help them regrow. However, better-quality studies show that it doesn’t necessarily help hepatitis C. In fact, a review of clinical trials concluded that isn’t enough evidence to prove it’s an effective treatment against the disease.

But, if you’ve exhausted all other treatments and want to give milk thistle a go, you can probably take it without any risk of harm—just check with your doctor first.

Zinc. It’s thought that zinc deficiencies associated with hep C could affect the liver and make it harder for the body to fight the virus. Some limited research, conducted primarily outside of the US, suggests that zinc supplements may help reduce some symptoms of hep C, though it doesn’t appear to slow the progress of the disease. Zinc is generally safe, but taking too much could be toxic—40mg per day of “elemental” zinc, from food and supplements combined, is considered the safe limit.

Glycyrrhizin. This hard-to-pronounce compound is the active substance in licorice root. Some studies have looked at it as a possible antiviral treatment for hep C. Unfortunately, not enough evidence shows that it works, according to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). But, we do know that too much licorice or glycyrrhizin could be toxic for people with a history of high blood pressure, kidney failure or heart disease.

Silver. A form called “colloidal silver” is promoted online as a miracle cure for the infection, but the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says there is no evidence that colloidal silver is a safe and effective treatment for hepatitis—or any other condition. Plus, taking silver could even cause permanent damage to your skin tone, giving it a bluish discoloration.

Detoxes or cleanses. Sure, detox diets and cleanses sound like a way to rid your body of toxins, which must help protect your liver, right? But no evidence proves these actually do any good.

Some supplements and detoxes could be more dangerous than others, so talk to your doctor about your treatment options. Very effective medications are now available for hep C. The NCCIH warns that you should never use alternative remedies in place of conventional medical care, or put off seeing a doctor while you give them a try.

Medically reviewed in October 2018.

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