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Considering Acupuncture for Hepatitis C?

Nicole Cutler L.Ac. January 14, 2013

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Whether or not you are taking antiviral medications, make sure you know how acupuncture can help in the fight against Hepatitis C.

Those who follow the latest drug approvals and research data know that the treatments available for Hepatitis C seem to be steadily improving. This progress is encouraging; however, there are many individuals with Hepatitis C who still need help. Acupuncture is not usually prescribed in a conventional physician’s office, but this eastern-based therapy can be extremely valuable to people fighting Hepatitis C – whether they take the potent drug cocktails or not.

Drug Treatment

The goal of Hepatitis C drug treatment is to suppress the virus so much that it becomes undetectable in the blood. Until new drugs in development are approved, Hepatitis C treatment consists of combining:

  • Pegylated interferon alpha
  • Ribavirin

Besides interferon and ribavirin, patients who have never received treatment before or who have been previously treated with interferon-based treatment but have never achieved a sustained response are eligible for a third medication. The most recently approved class of drugs for Hepatitis C, protease inhibitors can shorten the overall duration of treatment and improve the likelihood of viral suppression. The two approved protease inhibitors that could be the third medication in Hepatitis C drug treatment are:

  1. Telaprevir
  2. Boceprevir

The addition of a protease inhibitor to pegylated interferon and ribavirin has increased Hepatitis C treatment’s success rate from 50 to 75 percent. While that jump in effectiveness is cause for celebration, the side effects from the interferon-ribavirin duo or the trio including telaprevir or boceprevir are often severe. The side effects frequently incurred from a Hepatitis C drug cocktail can involve:

  • Fatigue
  • Headache and/or muscle aches
  • Nausea and/or vomiting
  • Rash
  • Anemia
  • Itching – including anal itching
  • Fever
  • Depression
  • Heart disease aggravation
  • Pancreas inflammation

Experiencing any of the side effects above can make Hepatitis C treatment a grueling process – or they could be the cause of reducing drug dosage. In more severe cases, several of the side effects can spell the end of Hepatitis C treatment all together – and a consequential surrender of hope.

Acupuncture to Help Minimize Side Effects

Upon considering if acupuncture is worth a try, know that it is not intended to be a substitute for Hepatitis C treatment. Rather, acupuncture maximizes the body’s potential for health by creating an energetic balance. For someone on a Hepatitis C drug cocktail, that balance is likely to reduce the incidence or severity of side effects. Those who have had acupuncture can attest to its ability to make a significant impact on the following symptoms:

  • Reduces fatigue
  • Stops nausea and/or vomiting
  • Eases headaches and muscle aches
  • Improves mood/relieves stress

By looking closer at anemia, we can broaden our understanding of how acupuncture could possibly help some of the symptoms described above. Anemia, not having enough red blood cells, poses a major obstacle to successfully completing Hepatitis C treatment. Because red blood cells provide other cells with the oxygen they need to function normally, anemia can cause devastating fatigue. In an effort to circumvent anemia, many patients on Hepatitis C treatment are placed on drugs to stimulate red blood cell production. Unfortunately, these drugs have a long list of potentially dangerous side effects as well.

One of acupuncture’s strengths is that its stimulation of the body’s energy to create balance can influence blood cell creation. In the treatment of anemia, points are typically selected along channels that increase the flow of energy to the spleen, stomach and liver. Differing a bit from western medical theory, acupuncture theory describes:

  • the spleen as the location for new blood cell production
  • the stomach as the system responsible for absorbing necessary nutrients from the digestive system for blood cell creation
  • the liver as the organ that stores blood and maintains a properly balanced flow of blood throughout the body

Thus, carefully chosen points along these three meridians can have the overall effect of stimulating red blood cell production and alleviating fatigue.

Acupuncture for Liver Health

Each of the estimated four million Americans with chronic Hepatitis C do not receive the antiviral drug treatment. There may be many reasons for this, such as:

  • Financial or health insurance constraints
  • Refusal to endure the medication’s side effects
  • Other health problems that complicate treatment
  • Previous failure of therapy

Individuals who fall into this category are encouraged by their physicians to do all they can to prevent their Hepatitis C from progressing to advanced liver disease. This usually involves healthy lifestyle choices that focus on nutrition and exercise, avoiding fat, sugar and processed foods, minimizing exposure to toxins, abstaining from drinking alcohol, supplementing with milk thistle or another liver protective herb, and loading up on antioxidants to prevent cellular damage.

The strategies listed to prevent disease advancement are all important, but adding acupuncture to this liver health plan increases its effectiveness even further. That is because regular acupuncture treatments can invigorate energy flow through the liver, a process that prevents congestion and inflammation. This is a major benefit, because congestion and inflammation in the liver are the physiological events that precede liver cell damage.

With the unified goal of staying as healthy as possible, it seems logical to utilize acupuncture alongside western medicine for a thorough Hepatitis C treatment plan. If taking a powerful drug cocktail to suppress Hepatitis C, acupuncture helps reduce the drugs’ side effects. This benefit increases the odds of successfully beating Hepatitis C by enabling people to complete the drug regimen. If waiting for a safer, more effective way to defeat the Hepatitis C virus, acupuncture can help protect liver health by deterring against congestion and inflammation. Either way, it’s hard to deny the inherent value this ancient alternative medical practice has for those with Hepatitis C.

References:

http://www.altmd.com/Articles/TCM-for-Anemia, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) for Anemia, Retrieved December 2, 2012, altMD, LLC, 2012.

http://www.emedicinehealth.com/current_and_future_medications_for_hepatitis_c/page4_em.htm, Hepatitis C Medications, Annette (Gbemudu) Ogbru, PharmD, MBA, et al, Retrieved December 2, 2012, WebMD, Inc., 2012.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22379787, Effect of electroacupuncture of “Taichong” (LR 3) on liver function in mild alcoholic liver injury rats, Chen BJ, et al, Retrieved November 28, 2012, Zhen Ci Yan Jiu = Acupuncture Research, December 2011.

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22764591, Effects of acupuncture intervention on hepatic platelet-derived growth factor signaling pathway in CCl4-induced hepatic fibrosis rats, Kong, DS, et al, Retrieved November 28, 2012, Zhen Ci Yan Jiu = Acupuncture Research, April 2012.

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HepatitisCentral.com provides information regarding hepatitis and liver disease. Comments are available to the community in order to discuss these topics and obtain answers to questions through community members. The Editors at HepatitisCentral.com will not be responding to questions or comments posed in article comments.

  • angelo212

    The only thing accupuncture “MAY” be useful for is nasuea from chemotherapy treatment of cancer. Don’t waste your hard earned money on this nonsense or choiroprators.

    • You have no idea. Acupuncture and herbs have been a primary treatment in Asia where hepatitis is quite common, I keep my hepatitis clients balanced so that they don’t need to go on interferon and their MD who monitors them reports no decline in health.

      • Angelo

        Oh I have a very good idea. People with hepatitis are general very balanced by doing nothing but watching what they eat. By the way, we meet before as I live in your area.

        • Michael

          I have been seeing an acupuncturist for the past two years. The treatments have kept me off of pain medicine, helps with stress, and muscle tension and soreness. My observation is that every individual’s body responds differently to acupuncture. I would not be so quick to issue a general statement like yours Angelo, because your experience is just that…a single experience. We should be careful about making statements unless we have a full understanding of the topic.

  • rivcrow

    I found acupuncture helpful in easing the side effects of treatment.
    It is not so expensive if you use a “Community Acupuncture” site. Most cities have them and tx is a fraction of the cost with a private practitioner.

  • hopeful

    help! I’ve been using acupuncture for 6 treatments now. The future plan is for 56 visits………Has anyone had success??