Chinese Traditional Medicine for Hepatitis C
By: Dr. Misha Ruth Cohen, OMD, L.Ac.
Many people with hepatitis C virus (HCV) are turning to Chinese
traditional medicine for treatment. CHINESE MEDICINE has a rich history
in the treatment of chronic hepatitis. Hepatitis B and C infections are
prevalent throughout China, accounting for the increased risk of
hepatocellular carcinoma in the Chinese population. The Chinese medical
system has been dedicated to solving these problems for many years. The
Chinese are working to eliminate sources of hepatitis, and to develop
treatments for chronic viral hepatitis using both CHINESE MEDICINE and
At the International Symposium on Viral
Hepatitis and AIDS held in Beijing, China in April 1991, more than 100
papers on viral hepatitis were presented. Several of these papers
documented the positive results of studies involving Chinese herbal
medicine. Studies on the use of herbal antivirals, and blood cooling
and circulating herbs for liver damage repair were presented. These
studies corroborated hundreds of years of treatment experience with
Chinese herbs for the symptoms of hepatitis. (1, 2, 3)
A 1995 literature review revealed there are at least 55 herbal
formulas that can be used to treat hepatitis.(4) Some recent herbal
studies from China and Australia showed positive results in hepatitis C
using herbal formulas similar to those widely used in the United
States. (5, 6, 7)
In the United States, CHINESE MEDICINE is a popular complementary
and alternative medicine (CAM) therapy among patients with chronic
liver disease. Anecdotal reports from one of the largest Western
medicine hepatology practices in San Francisco suggest that at least
20-30% of patients report use of CHINESE MEDICINE herbs for
hepatitis.(8) The actual use of CHINESE MEDICINE may be underestimated
because patients often choose not to divulge the use of CAM therapies
to their western health care providers.
CHINESE MEDICINE uses
nutrition, acupuncture, heat therapies (such as moxibustion), exercise,
massage, meditation, and herbal medicine to treat people infected with
HCV. Protocols have been developed that have successfully helped people
infected with HCV decrease symptoms, normalize or lower liver enzymes,
and slow the progression of liver disease. A 1995 pilot study conducted
among people co-infected with HIV and viral hepatitis (B and C) at San
Francisco's Quan Yin Healing Arts Center indicated acupuncture alone
may have an effect in lowering and/or normalizing liver enzyme
Chinese Medicine Philosophy
The primary goal of Chinese medicine is to create wholeness and
harmony within a person thereby allowing the mind, body, and spirit to
self-heal themselves. Chinese philosophy states that there are two
opposing principles of life: yin and yang. Imbalances between yin and
yang within a person can manifest as illness because the body is
considered a microcosm of the world.
CHINESE MEDICINE defines the physiological components of illness
using the concepts of qi (vital energy), xue (blood), jin-ye (body
fluids), jing (essence), shen (spirit), and organ systems. Organ
systems are domains within the body that govern particular body
tissues, emotional states, and activities.
theory states the key to health is the internal ability of the body to
remain strong. According to this theory, people are born with a certain
amount of original qi (pronounced "chee"). The qi is easily depleted as
energy is used by the body and not replaced. It is not easy to increase
the original qi. A person must work hard during life just to retain it.
Exercise such as tai chi and Qi gong, healthy eating, and good sleeping
habits are highly recommended for maintaining the original qi. If a
person consistently lacks sleep, does not have a healthy diet, abuses
drugs or alcohol, and/or has excessive or unsafe sex, he or she becomes
qi deficient. When weakened and qi deficient, a person is more
susceptible to infection by harmful external pathogenic elements.
Chinese Traditional Medicine Diagnoses for HCV
According to CHINESE MEDICINE literature, people in China have
experienced the various syndromes associated with HCV infection for
over 2000 years. This is because CHINESE MEDICINE diagnoses are based
on symptoms, not on detection of antibodies to a specific virus.
CHINESE MEDICINE treatments for these syndromes have been used over the
past millennia and are generally considered safe and effective for all
patients. However, CHINESE MEDICINE recognizes that each person has a
unique constitution and pattern of disease that exists in conjunction
with the age-old syndromes. CHINESE MEDICINE contends that the best
form of treatment is to modify, alter, or supplement the base therapies
to create an individualized treatment that meets each patient's unique
characteristics and needs.
Chinese medical theory states that
viral hepatitis is not singular diseases, but are combinations of
stages and syndromes. The diagnosis and staging of HCV are accomplished
using tongue diagnosis, pulse diagnosis, and questioning according to
CHINESE MEDICINE theory.
According to CHINESE MEDICINE, in HCV
infections toxic heat enters the body. Manifestations of an invasion of
heat include feelings of warmth, sweating, agitation, hot sensations,
and itching skin. Examination may reveal a fast pulse and a red tongue.
Small red spots on the tongue are a likely finding in nearly all cases
of chronic infection ranging from very obvious to barely noticeable.
The organ systems primarily disturbed in hepatitis are the liver and
spleen organ systems. These disturbed organ systems affect digestion
and energy. According to CHINESE MEDICINE, acute viral hepatitis is
generally associated with excess damp heat or damp cold conditions.
While some people acutely infected with HCV may have or notice
symptoms, this is relatively rare. The CHINESE MEDICINE stage at which
one is diagnosed with hepatitis C is usually either the chronic stage
of qi stagnation, or the stage of qi and yin deficiency. Advanced
chronic disease includes development of the patterns of xue stagnation
and xue deficiency. All HCV infection is associated with toxic heat or
the li qi (the pestilence/epidemic factor).
Traditional Chinese medicine Therapy for HCV
In Western medicine, extremely harmful external elements include
severe bacterial or viral infections such as HIV and HCV. However,
those terms are inappropriate in CHINESE MEDICINE. Instead, it is said
Chinese medicine "recognizes the existence of Pestilences called li qi
or yi qi. These are diseases that are not caused by the climatic
factors of Heat, Cold, Wind, Dampness, or Summer Heat dryness, but by
external infectious agents that are severely toxic because they strike
directly at the interior of the body. (10).
In the case of HCV
and/or HIV, the particular pestilence is identified as toxic heat.
Toxic heat is considered by CHINESE MEDICINE to be both an epidemic
factor (something that is seen in a number of patients) and its own
individual, treatable syndrome.
The various modalities of CHINESE MEDICINE therapy include diet,
massage, heat therapies, exercise, meditation, and acupuncture.
Heat therapies include the use of moxibustion. Moxibustion is the
burning of the herb mugwort over certain areas of the body to stimulate
or warm these areas. Also heated packs, often with herbs inside, are
used in CHINESE MEDICINE therapy
Exercise therapy ranges from
martial arts to more subtle forms of movement such as tai chi and Qi
gong. Many centers of CHINESE MEDICINE include Qi gong or tai chi
classes as part of their treatment programs.
Acupuncture is perhaps the most well known form of CHINESE MEDICINE
in the United States. It is the art of inserting fine, sterile, metal
filiform needles into acupuncture points on the body in order to
control the flow of energy. Acupuncture therapy can include
electrostimulation and/or hand stimulation. This form of therapy is
most appreciated for its ability to relieve pain. However, acupuncture
is also able to help change body energy patterns, which promotes the
body's ability to heal itself of organic syndromes and symptoms. In
these treatments, CHINESE MEDICINE often does not distinguish energetic
effects from physiologic effects.
The different modalities of CHINESE MEDICINE have different aims.
Some focus on balancing the body's energy, while others focus on
building the physical body and adding substances to both balance and
change the body materially. For example, the Enhance herbal
preparation that is widely used in HIV and HCV contains herbs to tonify
the spleen qi, and build xue. Qi tonification increases the amount of
energy in the body that is available for certain functions. Qi tonic
herbs often have the specific effect of increasing digestion and food
absorption. This increases the quality of the blood (xue).
is associated with balancing the body's energy levels, while herbal
substances are more like drugs or food in that they have specific
organic effects. Breathing exercises are known to strengthen qi. One
meaning of the Chinese word qi is air. By learning how to breathe
correctly, more oxygen becomes available to enter the bloodstream.
herbal medicine treatment for HCV depends on the stage of the disease
and the syndromes involved. Herbal medications in conjunction with rest
and dietary recommendations can treat the symptoms of acute hepatitis
fairly rapidly. Chronic hepatitis C is more difficult to treat.
Research and experience both from China and from CHINESE MEDICINE
clinics in the United States suggest that at least a one-year course of
CHINESE MEDICINE therapy is the minimum needed to alter the progression
of HCV. In our clinics, CHINESE MEDICINE therapy for chronic hepatitis
C usually includes combinations of herbal preparations, which are often
specifically designed for the disturbed organ system patterns.
COMBINING EASTERN AND WESTERN THERAPIES
If you decide to use a combination of eastern and western therapies,
you must discuss all of your treatment approaches with both your
eastern and western practitioners. The use of some herbal therapies in
conjunction with interferon therapy may be inappropriate. However,
Chinese medicine can be highly effective for the management of side
effects from drug therapy. CHINESE MEDICINE may also be used as an
alternative to western drug therapy in some cases.
Find an acupuncture provider that treats Hepatitis on www.Acufinder.com
1. Chen Z, et al. Clinical analysis of chronic
hepatitis B treated with CHINESE MEDICINE compositions Fugan No. 33 by
two lots. International Symposium on Viral Hepatitis and AIDS. Beijing,
China. Abstract, p 2. 1991.
2. Wang C, He J, Zhu C. Research of
repair of liver pathologic damage in 63 cases of hepatitis with severe
cholestatis by blood-cooling and circulation-invigorating Chinese
herbs. International Symposium on Viral Hepatitis and AIDS. Beijing
China. Abstract, p 5. 1991.
3. Zhao R, Shen H. Antifibrogenesis
with traditional Chinese herbs. International Symposium on Viral
Hepatitis and AIDS. Beijing China. Abstract, p 20. 1991.
K. Fifth Symposium of the Society for Acupuncture Research Conference.
Herbal safety and research panel. Society for Acupuncture Research
Conference. Palo Alto, California.1998.
5. Batey RG, Benssoussen
A, Yang Yifan, Hossain MA, Bollipo S. Chinese herbal medicine lowers
ALT in hepatitis C. A randomized placebo controlled trial report.
Cathay Herbal Laboratories. Sydney Australia. 1998. [Note: At the time
of publication, this unpublished report was available on the Cathay
Herbal Laboratories Internet site at:
Li H, et al. Qingtui fang applied in treating 128 cases of chronic
hepatitis C. Chinese Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western
Medicine for Liver Diseases. 1994;4(2):40. [Note: This journal is not
included in the National Library of Medicine's PubMed database.]
7. Wu C, et al. Thirty-three patients with hepatitis C treated by CHINESE MEDICINE syndrome differentiation.
Journal of Integrated Traditional and Western Medicine for Liver
Diseases. 1994;4(l):44 -45. [Note: This journal is not included in the
National Library of Medicine's PubMed database.]
8. Gish R. California Pacific Medical Center, San Francisco. Personal communication. 1996.
Cohen MR, Wilson CJ, Surasky A. Acupuncture treatment in people with
HCV and HIV coinfection and elevated transaminases. XII International
Conference on AIDS. Abstract 60211. Geneva, Switzerland. 1998.
10. Cohen MR, Doner K. The HIV Wellness Sourcebook. Henry Holt & Company. New York, New York. 1998.
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About the Author
Dr. Misha Ruth Cohen, OMD, L.Ac., has over 25 years experience in
the practice of Asian medicine--including acupuncture, herbal medicine,
nutrition and diet, and Asian bodywork.
Misha is the author of
three books: The Chinese Way to Healing: Many Paths to Wholeness; The
HIV Wellness Sourcebook: and The Hepatitis C Helpbook. She is
internationally known as a practitioner, teacher, and mentor to Chinese
medicine practitioners around the world.
Today, Cohen has developed great expertise in the area of gynecology
and is considered one of the pioneers of utilizing Chinese medicine to
help treat HIV and AIDS.