Herbal Treatment Treats Hepatitis B
According to a new study published in the Southeast Asian Journal of Tropical Medicine and Public Health (2001;32:140–2), an herbal formula containing Phyllanthus amarus is an effective treatment for people with hepatitis B. In fact, the herbal formula compared favorably with interferon, the standard medical treatment for the condition.
In this new study, 30 patients with hepatitis B infection were treated with four capsules three times per day of an herbal formula for three months. Roughly 75% of people taking the herbal formula had normalization of blood measures of liver damage. Over 40% of those treated had no evidence of continued infection after treatment. All the measured outcomes were similar to, or better than, the results in 25 people treated with interferon.
The herbal formula contained 275 mg of Phyllanthus amarus per capsule and an unspecified amount of Panax notoginseng, as well as other unspecified ingredients. No side effects of the herbal treatment were reported.
Phyllanthus has been shown in test tube studies to block the action of an enzyme necessary for the hepatitis B virus to reproduce. The role of the other herbs in this formula is as yet unclear.
Hepatitis B is a viral infection of the liver, and can cause liver failure, cancer, or both in up to 25% of the people who carry the virus. Hepatitis B may be spread by exposure to infected blood or other body fluids; typically from sexual contact, IV drug use, or occupational exposure of healthcare workers. As not all infected individuals experience symptoms, many hepatitis B carriers are unaware that they are infected. An estimated 1.25 million Americans currently carry the hepatitis B virus. Infection rates are far higher in other parts of the world, particularly Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
The standard treatment for hepatitis B is interferon, given by injection three times per week for four to six months. Interferon treatment can cause a number of side effects, including flu-like symptoms, depression, weight loss, and autoimmune disease. Less than a quarter of infected people are cured by interferon treatment, with another 25 to 45% experiencing symptomatic improvement.
These result of the new study on Phyllanthus amarus, while promising, does not prove that this herbal treatment should replace interferon as the treatment of choice for hepatitis B. Larger studies with longer follow-up periods will be necessary to make clear what role this herb should play in hepatitis treatment. Larger studies are already in the planning stages.
Matt Brignall, ND, is in practice at the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center and at the Evergreen Integrative Medicine Clinic in Kirkland, WA. He specializes in integrative treatment of cancer. He is a contributor to Healthnotes and Healthnotes Newswire.
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