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Viral Hepatitis

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Alternative Therapies--Herbal medicines

for Veterans and the Public

Herbal medicines

Herbal medicines are substances that come from plants. They can be taken from all parts of a plant, including the roots, leaves, berries, and flowers. The small amounts of herbs used in cooking do not pose a threat. It's the larger amounts sold as medicines that can be risky.

One of the main problems with herbal medicines is that, unlike medications dispensed from licensed pharmacies in the United States, the amount of medication in a pill or other quantity of the medicine is not regulated. So one preparation can vary in potency by five-, ten-, one hundred-, or one thousand-fold, and the person taking the medicine doesn't know what that factor is. Other things also can be in the preparation that a person doesn't know about. Steroids and other medicines,which can have powerful effects, can be added to herbal preparations. Again, a person doesn't know this when they take the herbal product. This is why Western medical doctors tell their patients to be careful with herbal medications--no one knows what the patient is really getting.

People with hepatitis C sometimes take these medicines to help deal with side effects and symptoms, or because they did not get a response from their hepatitis C medications. Others take them while they are on interferon treatment in order to boost the effects of interferon.

Here is a summary of the research on some of the more popular herbs used for hepatitis C, as reported by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health.