Should Hepatitis C Treatment Include Selenium?
An estimated four to five million Americans are believed to have Hepatitis C, a potentially dangerous virus that infects the liver. As the pharmaceutical industry intently focuses on creating the ideal drug cocktail to kill the Hepatitis C virus, many look to the ability of natural supplements, like selenium, to inhibit damage done by this illness and strengthen the liver’s resilience to it.
An integrative tactic for battling Hepatitis C enlisting the “all hands on deck” approach is gaining popularity. Hepatitis C antiviral therapy has recently improved, offering an estimated 75 percent chance of success using a triple-drug regimen. Stimulating the immune system to attack the virus and targeting Hepatitis C viral particles for destruction appear to be the primary strategies of antiviral therapy. However, simultaneously supporting the very organ targeted by this virus and providing the body with ammunition to stay strong during infection are valuable additions to Hepatitis C treatment. Selenium supplementation appears to accomplish these complementary goals, and is a contender for any comprehensive plan to eliminate Hepatitis C.
A trace mineral considered to be essential for good health, selenium is typically required only in small amounts. Selenium is incorporated into proteins to make selenoproteins, important antioxidant enzymes. Selenoproteins help prevent cellular damage from free radicals, a major threat to the liver in those with Hepatitis C. In addition, selenium is needed for proper:
- immune system function
- thyroid function
Those who are healthy and eat a well-balanced diet are likely getting enough selenium. However, those with the following circumstances could have low levels:
- smoke cigarettes or drink alcohol
- take certain selenium-interfering medications such as birth control pills or gold salts
- have a health condition that reduces selenium levels such as ulcerative colitis or Hepatitis C
Foods that are naturally high in selenium include Brazil nuts, broccoli, fish (mackerel, tuna, halibut, flounder, herring, smelts), sunflower seeds, onions, leeks and garlic. However, some individuals are advised to supplement with selenium, as part of a vitamin-mineral supplement, a nutritional antioxidant formula or as a separate supplement.
Selenium’s minimum daily recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for adults age 19 and older is 55 mcg. However, some studies suggest side effects occur with long term use of dosages exceeding 400 mcg per day. Those with hypothyroid or a history of or at high risk for skin cancer are cautioned about selenium supplementation. In addition, supplemental selenium has the potential to interact with blood thinners, barbiturates, certain chemotherapy agents and some cholesterol medications.
Selenium and Hepatitis C
Experts explain that the Hepatitis C virus encodes selenoproteins, depleting that cell of selenium. As such, those with Hepatitis C likely need more selenium than the average person. Researchers hypothesize that when cells are drained of selenium, the Hepatitis C virus will spread from cell to cell looking for more.
- As published in a November 2011 edition of the journal Nutrition Research, Japanese researchers investigated the relationship between selenium, Hepatitis C and insulin resistance. They found that the degree of selenium deficiency correlated with the amount of liver damage in patients with chronic Hepatitis C. In addition, they concluded that selenium deficiency was likely a factor contributing to insulin resistance in affected individuals.
- As published in the March-April 2012 edition of the Saudi Journal of Gastroenterology, Pakistani researchers evaluated blood selenium concentrations in patients with Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C. Their results indicated that healthy individuals had greater blood selenium concentrations than those with Hepatitis B or C. Additionally, they found that levels of selenium were notably lower in those with more severe liver disease. Based on these findings, the researchers suggested selenium supplementation in patients with advanced liver disease from Hepatitis B or C to optimize nutritional support and get a better treatment response.
The Big Picture
The odds of beating the Hepatitis C virus are improving, and the new drugs in development promise to increase those odds. Even though the multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry seems to be in control of the fate of those with Hepatitis C, eating selenium-rich foods or even supplementing with selenium could help individuals gain the upper hand in battling this virus.
Because there appears to be a direct relationship between selenium deficiency and severity of Hepatitis C infection, getting more selenium to the body’s cells makes sense. Consuming foods with selenium is the safest way to proceed, but some who have had Hepatitis C for decades may want additional protection. If this is the case, be certain to discuss selenium supplementation with a knowledgeable physician to avoid any potential unwanted side effects or interactions. Assuming you are under a doctor’s supervision, providing your cells with the material to make selenoproteins could help prevent Hepatitis C from invading more territory – potentially increasing the success of antiviral therapy.
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