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Hepatitis C was Killing Me!
Alternative medicine did what conventional medicine could not do!

Hepatitis C (HCV): The Disease

There are approximately 3.9 million chronically infected Americans and 35,000 to 180,000 people infected each year in the United States. Of these, 85% of infected persons are chronic, 24,500 to 126,000 per year will develop chronic liver disease and 8,000 to 10,000 per year will die from chronic liver disease such as cirrhosis or cancer.

HCV infection is widespread throughout the world. The first global estimate of HCV prevalence, suggest that up to 3% of the world’s population has HCV. There may be more than 170 million chronic carries at risk of developing liver cirrhosis and/or liver cancer.

For a slight majority of patients, the illness begins suddenly as though they have come down with the “flu” that never seems to go away. For many other people, the onset appears gradually over a long period of time. Many times, HCV takes years before being diagnosed because the symptoms of hepatitis mimic several other illnesses (autoimmune illnesses, cancer, chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, arthritis, et...)

The symptoms of HCV range from no symptoms at all, to gradually progressive fatigue and lack of energy and sometimes to complete debility. The effects of the virus vary widely between individuals. Other known symptoms include; joint and muscle pains, memory loss, mental confusion, skin problems such as dry or itchy skin, rashes or spots, depression, anxiety, irritability, indigestion, nausea, vomiting, gas, sleep disturbances, pain or discomfort in the abdomen, chills, sweating, hot or cold sweats, eyesight problems, sensitivity to hot or cold, vertigo, dizziness, headaches, urinary problems such as odor or coloration, slow healing and recovery, susceptibility to illness, weight loss or gain, water retention, mental problems, swelling of the stomach, legs or feet, mouth sores, excessive bleeding, loss of libido, red palms and brain fog.

Some doctors insist on believing that HCV usually has no symptoms and dismisses the patients' complaints as “being all in their heads." Some HCV+ patients require treatment for depression for years; before uncovering their actual diagnosis of HCV. Much is still unknown about HCV and many physicians have little experience in treating this virus. Also, many doctors are not yet familiar with the research that legitimizes the various symptoms that are a part of this virus.

My Story

In August 1995 I gave blood for our annual blood drive at work. Three weeks later I received a letter from the American Red Cross telling me that I should never give blood again. I had tested positive for Hepatitis B and C. I thought the test had to be wrong so I made an appointment with my doctor. She re-tested my blood and indeed found out that I did have HBV & HCV. In October 1995 I had a liver biopsy that confirmed the diagnosis of Chronic Hepatitis C. RNA however, I had developed the antibody for HBV so it was nonreactive. I soon found out that this diagnosis was not something to celebrate, there is no cure and could lead to cirrhosis (a scaring of the liver) which could turn into liver cancer. I felt completely helpless and could not understand how this happened. My doctor explained that I more than likely contracted this virus from the eight blood transfusions I had in 1982 during a minor surgery that went wrong. No one told me that the blood I needed to save my life could in the long run kill me.

Presently there is no cure for Hepatitis C with only a few treatments available. In 1995 the only approved FDA treatment being offered for HCV was 3 million units of recombinant alpha interferon. The patient must inject themselves 3 times a week for a period of six months. The doctor explained the success rate for ALT and AST normalization occurs in 40 - 60% of all patients. Positive results appear within the first three months of treatment. Relapses occur in 50 - 70% of these patients within six months. However, virological response appears to occur only in 20 - 25% of the patients long term. Again there is a problem with patients who have detectable HCV RNA but who have low or normal ALT levels (ALT and AST are two liver enzymes that indicates ongoing liver damage). My doctor explained there were some side effects that included symptoms like a bad case of flu, however he indicated that they would subside within the first two weeks. Also he explained, there could be problems with certain blood levels that required monitoring during the treatment. I knew my chances were low but I decided to begin the Interferon treatment on October 25, 1995.

My Experience with Interferon

When I started treatment my liver enzymes were; ALT - 27 (normal 0 - 28); AST - 29 (normal 0 - 31) and Gamma GT - 45 (normal 0 - 35). One week later I was so sick I could hardly get out of bed. The side effects from the interferon were horrible. I gave myself the injection at night with 2 Tylenol as directed by my doctor. Within a two to three hours, I was vomiting, chilling with a fever, had a massive headache and every muscle in my body ached. These side effects were to last for only 6 to 8 hours but mine did not seem to go away. (See Side Effects from Interferon below). I was losing weight because I could not eat and so tired I could not work. When I saw my doctor two weeks after my treatment began he assured me I should be feeling better by my next appointment (two weeks later).

After my first two weeks of treatment, my enzymes did go down some so I was hopeful. My side effects however, did not go away and seemed to be getting worse. It was so hard for me to inject myself with the interferon knowing that I would be violently ill within an hour or two. The only thing that helped me through this was the hope of being cured.

After my next appointment and blood work, my liver enzymes were slightly higher; ALT - 44; AST - 49 & Gamma GT - 41. My doctor said that this happens sometimes and does not mean the treatment was not working. I told him I was still getting so sick after the treatment and the symptoms did not completely go away before the next injection; all he told me is that I could not be that sick and sent me back to work. It took every bit of strength I had to work eight hours a day. Once again I felt hopeless and could not understand why my doctor did not realize how sick interferon was making me feel.

My doctor finally decided to discontinue treatment after four months when my liver enzymes climbed to; ALT - 41, AST - 52 and Gamma GT - 87. Devastated when my treatment failed and knowing there was no other treatment available really frightened me for the first time since my diagnosis. I left the doctors office in tears, trying to accept the fact that I was not going to get any better and that was very hard. A non caring doctor handed me a death sentence and sent me on my way to deal with this disease alone. (Note: there now are other drugs available that are having some success; however they are used in combination with interferon. After learning about the side effects of interferon, I could not use that drug again.)

After the initial shock and depression when my treatment failed, I decided to do some research of my own. What I found out about HCV and interferon shocked me even more. Not only did my doctor not inform me about all the horrible side effect of interferon (some of those are permanent), he forgot to tell me that this virus also attacks other organs. These organs include blood vessels, skin, joints, kidneys and thyroid. When chronic hepatitis C infection causes liver cirrhosis, the potential problems can include fluid accumulation in the abdomen, bleeding in the stomach, jaundice, confusion, poor blood clotting and susceptibility to infection.

My Search for a Cure

For years I seemed to get every little flu bug in the air, so I thought, but all along it had been flare ups from HCV. Realizing this lead me to alternative medicine and my ultimate holistic approach to a cure. Mom’s chicken soup and extra vitamin C when we get the flu helps, so why couldn’t this in theory help my liver? I started reading everything I could about the liver and what kinds of supplements could detoxify it. I learned the liver can repair itself if taken care of. So it made sense to me that nutrition and diet play a big role in keeping the liver healthy.

According to the Encyclopedia of Natural medicines:

A natural diet, low in natural and synthetically saturated fat, simple carbohydrates (sugar, white flour, fruit juice, honey, et...), oxidized fatty acids (fried oils) and animal fat, and high in fiber is recommended for a healthy liver and body.

Natural substances to help your liver detoxify are as close as your kitchen cupboard. Eating foods rich in lecithin (soybean), essential fatty acids (salmon, flax oil) and green leafy vegetables rich in fiber and antioxidants like vitamins C and E, are all gourmet cuisine for your liver. Lowering your intake of saturated fat, refined carbohydrates and animal protein and avoiding excessive amounts of alcohol are other recommendations that are good both for your liver and overall body health.

Dandelion root and artichoke are both excellent spring dietary condiments that are very helpful in improving liver bile flow. In addition to these good choices, supplements like L-methionine are an excellent choice for a congested liver. Glutathione peroxidase is one of the body major detoxification enzymes and is in part defended by methione during a toxic challenge to the liver...

The article goes on to describe the function of Milk Thistle. It concludes that the most potent substances for protecting the liver are Milk Thistle, Dandelion and L-methionine. L-methionine is classed as a " supplement," and Milk Thistle and Dandelion as " botanical medicines." - "Protecting and Enhancing Liver Functions," by Ronald G Reichert, ND, Alive: Canadian Journal of Health and Nutrition #161, March 1996): pp. 14-16

I began my program with a low fat diet that helped me loose fifty pounds. This inspired me to publish my first book, “The Body Shop Cookbook” that has over 350 low fat recipes and lots of great nutritional information. I also started a nutritional supplement program that included vitamin C, Vitamin B complex, Vitamin B12, and Folic Acid. I also take two products by Nature's Sunshine called LIV-A and LIV-Guard. LIV-A is a combination of herbs which include Red Beet, Dandelion, Parsley, Horsetail, Liverwort, Black Cohosh, Birch, Blessed Thistle, Angelica, Chamomile, Gentian and Golden Rod with an herbal source of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, silicon, sodium, riboflavin and Vitamin A. All these herbs nourish the liver. LIV-Guard with milk thistle provides nutrients that must be present for the liver to perform its 500 or more functions. Each tablet contains: Vitamin A (as beta-carotene), Vitamin C, Iron (ferrous gluconate) and mixed in a base of milk thistle extract, dandelion root, choline bitartrate, and inositol.

There are several other hepatic herbs available such as Balmony, Barberry, Black Root, Blue Flag, Boldo, Fringetree Bark, Golden Seal, Vervain, Wahoo, Wild Yam and Yellow Dock. All of these hepatic herbs help strengthen, tone and stimulate the secretionary function of the liver.

After six months of taking these products my liver enzymes began to drop and I started feeling much better. The color in my skin began to come back and I did not have that sick look anymore. My doctor was pleased with the results but to this day is skeptical about what the supplements were doing for me. She also reminded me that even though my liver enzymes were going down - I still had HCV.

I did not intend to give up my search for a cure because I truly believed that these herbs and vitamins would cure my HCV. Then I found a wonderful book called "Sharks Don't Get Cancer" by I. William Lane, PhD. He states, "Having survived virtually unchanged for four hundred million years, the shark is certainly one of the most remarkable creatures on the face of our planet. The shark appears to be the only animal with a natural immunity to cancer and practically every disease known to man. Researchers worldwide are investigating the shark's natural resistance to disease. There has been an explosion of medical research on shark cartilage's amazing ability."

This book made me wonder, if shark cartilage has been killing some types of cancers and certain viruses, could it kill Hepatitis C? It is a virus. So, I added 1500 mg. of shark cartilage to my program and in six months my liver enzymes were even lower.

Finally, I found MSM (methyl-sulfanyl methane). MSM is not a medicine, drug or a food additive. It is a mineral found in all foods, milk, fruits, meats and vegetables. MSM is a natural form of organic sulfur found in all living organisms. MSM is the 3rd largest ingredient found in your body. Your body is made up of water, salt and MSM. Unfortunately, MSM quickly disappears from foods when processed, cooked and/or stored. As soon you pick fruits or vegetables from the tree or vine, they begin rapidly losing MSM.

Remember what Ronald G. Reichert said in his article, Protecting and Enhancing Liver Functions, "In addition to these good choices, supplements like L-methionine are an excellent choice for a congested liver". MSM is the transport molecule for elemental sulfur that is required for proper assimilation of the amino acids, methionine and cysteine. In addition, the peptize hormone, insulin, requires sulfur in its molecular structure, and numerous other proteins, catalysts, and enzymes incorporate sulfur into their molecular framework. The body uses MSM to create new, good healthy cells. Vitamins and amino acids work with MSM during this process. Without proper levels of MSM, our bodies are unable to build good healthy cells, and this leads to illness. Our bodies are producing new cells 24 hours per day and completely renews itself every eleven months. If our body does not receive the proper nutrition and building materials it needs, it will produce unhealthy, dysfunctional cells, deficient of the basic ingredients that constitute a healthy cell.

Knowing that the liver can repair itself and that MSM creates new, healthy cells; I reasoned that MSM would help the liver in its healing process. For this reason, I added MSM to my program.

In conclusion, when I stopped my interferon treatment in February 1996, my liver enzymes were; ALT - 41, AST - 52 and Gamma GT - 87. On December 18th, 1998, my liver enzymes were; ALT - 22 (normal 0 - 28); AST - 25 (normal 0 - 31) and Gamma GT - 31 (normal 0 - 35). For the first time in 16 years, I AM NORMAL!! The doctor was thrilled and told me to keep doing what I am doing because it is saving my life. I am still not sure that she believes that the vitamins and herbs are the reason but I think she must be wondering.

In one year I will be re-tested to see if I have killed this horrible virus for good. I truly believe I have already. I have not felt this good since the day I contacted HCV.

Remember, we are all very different so each individual will have their own program. However, I feel everyone with any of the hepatitis virus should be taking Shark Cartilage, Liv-C, Liv-Guard and MSM along with eating a healthy low fat diet and have an exercise routine. Also, stop drinking alcohol and caffeine, stop smoking and drink plenty of water.

Side Effects of Interferon Alpha in Viral Hepatitis

Interferon alphas have been widely used to treat chronic hepatitis C virus infection. However, a wide array of side effects have been encountered in several large trials of treatment of hepatitis C. Side effects are common; ranging from minor to problematic for a significant proportion of patients. Major adverse events can occur but life-threatening adverse events have been rare.

Early flu-like side effects are predictable and are encountered in the majority of patients. These tend to occur within 6-8 hours after starting treatment and are worst with the first injections. Administration at night may reduce the frequency of these side effects. They usually regress after discontinuing therapy, albeit after some weeks. These side effects include fever, malaise, tachacardia, chills, headache, arthralgias, and myalgias.

Later side effects develop after some days. These include fatigue, malaise, apathy, and cognitive changes. Between 10 and 15 percent of patients find the chronic side effects intolerable and discontinue treatment. Higher doses (above 5-6 MU three times weekly) tend to give higher rates of adverse events.

TABLE 1. Most Common Adverse Side Effects for Patients Treated With Consensus Interferon (CIFN) or Interferon Alfa 2b (3 MU=15 ug) (percentage)

Preferred Term

CIFN 3ug

CIFN 9ug

IFN a-2b 15ug

       
Headache 75 82 82
Fatigue 58 69 67
Fever 30 60 45
Rigors 22 57 44
Myalgia 46 57 55
Pain 39    
Arthralgia 43 44
Back pain 33 41 36
Abdominal pain 37 40 39
Nausea 41 40 35
Insomnia 26 38 30
Pharyngitis 28 33 31
Nervousness 26 31 28
Infection upper 32 31 33
Diarrhea 25 28 24
Pain limb 20 26 25
Depression 21 26 25
Anorexia 17 23 17
Granulocytopenia 9 23 25
Erythema 22.2 22.5 15.3
Dizziness 25 22 24
Cough 14 22 17
Dyspepsia 22 20 18
Anxiety 15 19 18
Thrombocytopenia 11 18 16
Sinusitis 15 17 22
Influenza like 22.6 15 11
Leukopenia 7 14 12
Pain neck 10 14 12
Pain skeletal 13 14 14
Alopecia 6 14 25
Paraesthesia 10 13 9
Pruritus 13 13 13
Rash 12 13 14
Chest pain 15 12 14
Hot flushes 6 12 7.2
Emotional lability 8 12 11
Rhinitis 12 12 15
Increased sweating 5 12 11
Vomiting 12 11 10
Resp tract congestion 11 10 14
Dysmenorrhea 7.8 9.4 9.4
Thyroid test abnormal 3 9 4
Conjunctivitis 6.1 8.2 8.1
Constipation 10 8 5
Thinking abnormal 10 7.8 12
Hypertriglyceridemia 6 6 6
Tinnitus 3 5 4
Pain eye 2.6 4.8 5.5
Earache 10 4 6

The following is a list of blood tests that can be effected by Interferon. This levels most be monitored closely because of the potential danger to the patient.

Hemoglobin  Neutrophil count
White blood cells  Basophil count
Segmented neutrophil count  Eosinophil count
Lymphocyte count  Monocyte counts
Platelet counts  Serum calcium
Serum triglyceride  

Other Potentially Dangerous Side Effects

Cardiovascular Side Effects

Both benign and severe cardiac manifestations have been reported. Cardiac arrhythmias, including supraventricular tachycardia but also sudden death and ventricular arrhythmias, have been reported. There are single case reports of dilated cardiomyopathy. Hypotension has been reported in large trials.

Dermatologic Side Effects

A variety of rashes including erythema multiforme have been noted. Pruritus can be troublesome. Mild hair loss is relatively common but is reversible. Local erythema is common. Psoriasis can develop or be aggravated and is usually difficult to treat. Vitiligo has been reported.

Gastrointestinal Side Effects

Nausea, vomiting, dyspepsia, diarrhea, and abdominal pain are relatively frequent.

Hepatic Side Effects

Serum aminotransferases may increase during interferon alpha treatment. These are generally mild and resolve with continued treatment in responsive patients. Hepatic decompensation may occur in patients with cirrhosis, and these patients are more susceptible to infections.

Autoimmune hepatitis should not be misdiagnosed as hepatitis C infection, as severe exacerbation of the disease with cholestasis and severe liver injury can occur. Patients with documented hepatitis C infection may deteriorate after interferon alpha treatment if an underlying autoimmune diasthesis is present. This has been observed in LKM antibody-positive individuals. These patients require careful monitoring if interferon is considered the first line of treatment. Rejection may occur if interferon is used after liver transplantation.

Hormonal and Metabolic Side Effects

A sustained increase in serum triglyceride levels has been reported. Diabetes mellitus may worsen or develop

Immune Disorders

Interferon has been associated with hypothyroidism, autoimmune thyroiditis and hyperthyroidism. Other autoimmune endocrine diseases have been induced but thyroid disease has been reported in 2.5-20 percent of patients. This may not be reversible after stopping therapy, unless therapy is stopped early, and long-term thyroid replacement may be required. It is possible that underlying thyroid disease is more common in chronic hepatitis C infection.

An aggravation of the chronic hepatitis may occur and discontinuation may be required, particularly for hyperthyroidism. Autoimmune hepatitis usually necessitates discontinuation of therapy. Interferon may promote the development of systemic lupus erythematosus.

Myelosuppression

Granulocytes, thrombocytes, and red blood cell counts are commonly decreased during treatment. These are usually mild if normal counts are present initially, but can be dose limiting in the presence of low counts, for example in patients with hypersplenism. Patients may be predisposed to infections. The mechanism of granulocytopenia is unknown, but inhibition of cell release from the bone marrow has been suggested.

Neuropsychiatric Side Effects

These effects include fatigue, asthenia, drowsiness, lack of initiative, irritability, confusion, and apathy; behavioral, mood, and cognitive changes are a relatively frequent dose-limiting toxicity. Severe depression may occur and suicidal ideation is well described. This can be more marked in patients with a history of depression, but suicide has been reported in patients without a previous psychiatric history.

Severe depression is a medical emergency. The overall incidence of neurotoxicity is 25-33 percent. Seizures have been recorded in 1.3 percent of patients.

There are isolated reports of extra pyramidal syndromes with ataxia and akathisia. Paraesthesias have been recorded.

Rare Adverse Events

Ocular: Retinopathy has been reported in Japanese patients.

Lung: interstitial fibrosis of the lung and hearing impairment have been found. The cases of pneumonitis may also be due to the use of Sho-Saiko and interferon.

Conclusion

This array of side effects indicates the importance of selecting patients for therapy and optimizing response. Careful assessment is required before treatment, and monitoring is required during treatment. Relatively little is known about the mechanisms of many of the side effects of interferon alpha.

Combination antiviral therapy, particularly ribavirin and interferon, is likely to be given to many patients with chronic hepatitis C. Interactive pharmacokinetic studies examining the distribution and metabolism of these two drugs are in progress.

Every patient is different and if your doctor does not listen to your complaints as mine did, find another doctor. As I stated in my article, the side effects I experienced were extremely bad and all my doctor said was I could not be that sick.

Please Note:
It has been poined out by a reader that people with HCV cannot metabolize iron and so should not ever take iron supplements.

After numerous attempt we have not been able to get in touch with the author of that article and have not been able to varify that articles accuracy.


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