Complementary or alternative medicine (CAM) are those medical or healthcare practices that may be seen to be outside of conventional Western medicine. Complementary therapies are used in conjunction with conventional medicine. Some therapies are used instead of Western medicine and are referred to as alternative.
Many elements of CAM provide a holistic response to wellness and can assist in emotional, spiritual and physical well-being.
Some people with hepatitis C are interested in CAM because they found treatment difficult or not appropriate for their situation, or because treatment did not clear the virus. Others explore CAM because it resonates with their culture or experience of disease.
Some examples of CAM are:
- herbal remedies
- Ayurvedic medicine
- North American Aboriginal Healing Traditions
- Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM)
- colour therapy
- mind-body therapy
- massage therapy
Two herbal supplements popular among people with hepatitis C are milk thistle (silymarin) and licorice root. Studies on the effectiveness of these supplements are ongoing; at present, no scientific evidence has clearly proven that these remedies affect the course of liver disease.
Benefits of CAM
CAM can have many benefits. Elements of CAM provide a holistic response to wellness and can assist in emotional, spiritual and physical well-being. They provide options and opportunities for patients to explore new meanings of health. Because hepatitis C is often a chronic infection, having the ability to make decisions around complementary medicine can give people some sense of control over their infection.
Cautions with CAM
People living with hepatitis C should consider some of the dangers of CAM, especially in regards to the damage that herbal remedies can cause to the liver and interactions between herbal remedies and hepatitis C medications.
Many people feel that the labels “natural” or “botanical” mean that products are safe, but this is not necessarily true.
The liver is the processing and filtering organ of the body, so anything that enters the body will eventually come in contact with it. Some herbal remedies that are harmful to the liver and should be avoided include:
- wormwood or aemesia
- pine thistle (Atractylis gummifera)
- bush tea
- impila (Callilepis laureola)
- chapparal leaf
- rattlepod or crotalaria
- germander (Teucrium chamaedyrs)
- gordolobo herbal tea
- kava (not approved in Canada)
- kombucha (tea)
- ma-huang (ephedra)
- margosa oil
- mate (Paraguay) tea
- golden ragwort (Senecio aureus)
- valerian root (common in sleep remedies)
Some CAM can also interact badly with hepatitis C medications. This is especially true for herbs. For example, St. John’s wort, an herb used to treat depression, can cause problems with protease inhibitors boceprevir and telaprevir.
Herbal remedies, vitamins and mineral supplements should be used with care and only with the go-ahead from a doctor.
Many people feel that the labels “natural” or “botanical” mean that products are safe, but this is not necessarily true. Healthcare providers should be involved in the decision to start herbal medicines in order to ensure safe and coordinated care, especially because many herbal remedies are not regulated for consistency or quality. Also, making sure the product has a Drug Identification Number (DIN) means that the preparation or dietary supplement is approved for use in Canada.
Acupuncture can have many health benefits. People with hepatitis C also need to be aware of the risks associated with acupuncture. Because the procedure uses needles to pierce the skin, sharing acupuncture needles can transmit hepatitis C. All acupuncture needles are required to be single-use and disposed of in sharps containers. People can check to see if this is the common practice in the acupuncture clinic to ensure that they do not transmit hepatitis C to others and do not put themselves at risk for other infections. People can consider disclosing their hepatitis C status to the acupuncturist to reinforce the importance of the disposal of used needles. Exploring acupressure, which doesn’t break or pierce the skin, may also be an option.