Complementary Therapies

The information provided on this page is for people with hepatitis C who want to know more about complementary and alternative therapies. It is intended as an introductory guide only. Anecdotally, good results have been reported by some people using complementary therapies but others have found no observable benefits—and, as with any treatment, it’s important to remember that excessive or wrongly prescribed therapies can cause damage to the liver.

What do the terms complementary and alternative mean?

These terms describe types of medicine that are not presently considered to be part of conventional medicine.

‘Complementary therapy’ refers to a health practice when it is used alongside a conventional or mainstream health care approach.

‘Alternative therapy’ refers to a health practice that is not a conventional or mainstream health care approach.

Sometimes these terms are used interchangeably.

Why choose complementary and alternative therapies?

Reasons why people with hepatitis C choose complementary and alternative therapies include:

  • To improve quality of life by relieving symptoms of chronic infection and/or reduce side effects of conventional treatment.
  • To take an active role in decisions about their health care.
  • Cultural influences.
  • Dissatisfaction with conventional approaches to health care.
  • Or concerns about perceived or reported toxicity of conventional prescription medicines. 

How effective are complementary and alternative therapies for hepatitis C?

Many people worldwide have found an increase in well-being through using complementary therapies, whether they have hepatitis C or not. However, there is limited research into the effectiveness of complementary and alternative therapies for hepatitis C.

Some people with hepatitis C report good results while using complementary or alternative therapies, while others notice few benefits.

If you pursue complementary and alternative therapies it is important that you tell your liver specialist and GP of any therapies that you have recently used, are using, or plan to use. Your complementary/alternative practitioner should also be aware of what conventional treatments you are accessing. As a rule, every practitioner you see, whether they use conventional or alternative/complementary medicine needs to know of all the therapies you are using. This information will help the practitioner protect your health.

How to choose a practitioner

Some complementary/alternative practitioners are registered with professional bodies, so choose a practitioner who is properly qualified, knows about hepatitis C, and preferably has experience working with people who have hepatitis C and/or other chronic liver disease.

In making this choice, you could consider asking the complementary/alternative practitioner:

  • What qualifications or training do you have in relation to particular therapies?
  • Are you a registered member of a professional association for that particular therapy?
  • What do you know about hepatitis C?

About the therapy and its benefits to you, including:

  • Number of treatment sessions and length of treatment.
  • What it will require of you.
  • How it might improve your health.
  • The risks of the therapy.
  • How the therapy works in combination with other therapies or conventional treatments.
  • What are all the likely costs and charges of this therapy.
  • If they are willing and able to visit you at your home or in hospital if necessary.

Hepatitis Councils, liver clinics and some gastroenterologists in each State and Territory can refer people to reputable practitioners.

Commonly used herbs by people with hepatitis C

Although specific natural therapies have been used for chronic hepatitis C infection and the associated symptoms, there haven’t been many scientific trials to investigate their effectiveness. With the currently limited information available it is difficult to make any formal recommendations however the more commonly used herbs by people with hepatitis C are:

  • St Mary’s Thistle (Silybum marianum) also known as Milk Thistle;
  • Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra);
  • Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale); and
  • CH100.

If you are currently taking conventional treatments, talk to your doctor about using these herbs as they may cause side effects.

Herbs that can damage the liver

Some herbs and combinations of herbs can be harmful to the liver and therefore potentially dangerous for people with hepatitis C. The following list is not exhaustive, but indicates some of the herbs people with hepatitis C may want to avoid:

  • barberry
  • black cohosh
  • chaparral
  • comfrey
  • creosote bush
  • germander
  • gordolobo yerba tea
  • greasewood
  • greater celandine
  • false pennyroyal
  • jamaican bush tea
  • Jin Bu Huan
  • kombucha tea
  • sassafras
  • senna
  • white chameleon

Page Updated: 17 June 2013