The Truth About Hepatitis C Supplements

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

An array of dietary supplements and herbal remedies are laid out on a kitchen counter.

Medically reviewed in May 2022

Updated on May 24, 2022

If you have hepatitis C, taking supplements may seem like an easy way to address the illness—especially if you’ve been denied access to medications or they’re too expensive. But just because supplements may be easy to get doesn’t mean they’re necessarily safe, healthy, or effective in treating the disease. Many are not regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which means they are not tested for safety or accuracy.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) warns that you should never use alternative remedies in place of conventional medical care, so check first with a healthcare provider (HPC) before trying a supplement. Although they are not regulated as medicines, many supplements can have potential side effects and interactions with other medicines or treatments, so it’s crucial to discuss how they might fit into your overall wellness plan for hepatitis C.

Here’s what you need to know about the science behind some 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 a popular supplement for hepatitis in America. Proponents claim that silymarin, the active component of milk thistle, can protect liver cells from damage and help cells regrow. But better-quality studies show that it doesn’t necessarily help hepatitis C.

In fact, a 2014 review of clinical trials published in BioMed Research International concluded that there isn’t enough evidence to prove it’s an effective treatment for the disease. If you’ve exhausted all other treatments and still want to give milk thistle a try, consult with a HCP on the pros and cons.

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 United States, suggests that adding Zinc to your diet can offer antiviral protection and help reduce some symptoms of hep C, though doing so will not rid you of the disease.

Zinc is generally safe but overdosing could be toxic. Taking 40mg per day of “elemental” zinc, from food and supplements combined, is considered the safe limit. Getting more than 100mg per day for prolonged periods can lead to impaired immunity and other health problems.

Vitamin D
People with hepatitis C also tend to be deficient in vitamin D, the “sunshine vitamin.” A 2017 study published in Scientific Reports showed that supplementation boosted the immune system’s ability to handle infection.

Many people may not have adequate levels of D for a few reasons. For one, a typical American diet often does not provide enough, as it’s found in a relatively small number of foods, including fatty fish, dairy products, and some fortified foods.

Direct sun exposure to the skin enables your body to make much of the vitamin D it needs, but people who live in northern climates, don’t spend much time outdoors, have darker skin, or are older or obese may not make enough vitamin D from the sun.

How do you know if you’re deficient in vitamin D? The best way is to make an appointment with an HCP to get a simple blood test. Your HCP can then advise on the best course of supplementation to maintain healthy levels of vitamin D.

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. A 2021 Frontiers in Pharmacology report suggests that glycyrrhizin can lessen the viral load of hep C—and even more so when coupled with interferon, a type of drug that for many years was the go-to treatment for hep C.

Note, however, that too much licorice or glycyrrhizin could be toxic for people with a history of high blood pressure, kidney failure, or heart disease, so confirm with an HCP the level of supplementation that would be safe for you.

Turmeric
Found in many curry dishes, this flavorful spice belongs to the ginger family. Some research Studies shows that curcumin, a potent compound found in turmeric, has antiviral properties—including against hepatitis C. It’s also safe to use in savory meals. Just be wary of consuming large amounts of turmeric if you also take anti-coagulant medication, as turmeric may have blood-thinning properties.

Silver
The best move is simply to skip it. A form called “colloidal silver” is promoted online as a cure for hep C, but the U.S. 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 help rid your body of toxins (or even help you drop a few pounds). That must help protect your liver, right?

Alas, no evidence demonstrates these actually do any good. Some may, in fact, cause harm. Some of the ingredients contained in detox products can cause severe diarrhea and lead to dehydration. The best thing to drink for your liver is plain water.

Article sources open article sources

National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Hepatitis C and Dietary Supplements. Last Updated: May 2018.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Hepatitis C and Dietary Supplements: What the Science Says. June 2019.
Gowda C, Lott S, Grigorian M, et al. Absolute Insurer Denial of Direct-Acting Antiviral Therapy for Hepatitis C: A National Specialty Pharmacy Cohort Study. Open Forum Infect Dis. 2018;5(6):ofy076. Published 2018 Jun 7.
Mount Sinai. Milk Thistle. Accessed May 17, 2022.
Yang Z, Zhuang L, Lu Y, Xu Q, Chen X. Effects and tolerance of silymarin (milk thistle) in chronic hepatitis C virus infection patients: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Biomed Res Int. 2014;2014:941085.
Read SA, Obeid S, Ahlenstiel C, Ahlenstiel G. The Role of Zinc in Antiviral Immunity. Adv Nutr. 2019;10(4):696-710.
Larry E. Johnson, MD, PhD, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences. Zinc Toxicity. Merck Manual. Last full review/revision December 2021.
Suksawatamnuay, S. et al. Vitamin D supplementation improves serum markers associated with hepatic fibrogenesis in chronic hepatitis C patients: A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Sci Rep 7, 8905 (2017).
Sriphoosanaphan S, Thanapirom K, Kerr SJ, et al. Effect of vitamin D supplementation in patients with chronic hepatitis C after direct-acting antiviral treatment: a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. PeerJ. 2021;9:e10709. Published 2021 Feb 9.
Huan C, Xu Y, Zhang W, Guo T, Pan H, Gao S. Research Progress on the Antiviral Activity of Glycyrrhizin and its Derivatives in Liquorice. Front Pharmacol. 2021;12:680674. Published 2021 Jul 6.
Praditya D, Kirchhoff L, Brüning J, Rachmawati H, Steinmann J, Steinmann E. Anti-infective Properties of the Golden Spice Curcumin. Front Microbiol. 2019;10:912. Published 2019 May 3.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Colloidal Silver. Last Updated: April 2017.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. “Detoxes” and “Cleanses”: What You Need To Know. Last Updated: September 2019.
National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health. Are You Considering a Complementary Health Approach? Last Updated: September 2016.

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